Thursday, July 14, 2016

Social support, stress, and the aging brain

Sherman et al. find that the volume of the amygdala in older adults (a center for stress responses) is positively correlated with stress and negatively correlated with social support, these two effects being apparently independent of each other.
Social support benefits health and well-being in older individuals, however the mechanism remains poorly understood. One proposal, the stress-buffering hypothesis states social support ‘buffers’ the effects of stress on health. Alternatively, the main effect hypothesis suggests social support independently promotes health. We examined the combined association of social support and stress on the aging brain. Forty healthy older adults completed stress questionnaires, a social network interview and structural MRI to investigate the amygdala-medial prefrontal cortex circuitry, which is implicated in social and emotional processing and negatively affected by stress. Social support was positively correlated with right medial prefrontal cortical thickness while amygdala volume was negatively associated with social support and positively related to stress. We examined whether the association between social support and amygdala volume varied across stress level. Stress and social support uniquely contribute to amygdala volume, which is consistent with the health benefits of social support being independent of stress.

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