Ageing and oxytocin: A call for extending human oxytocin research to ageing populations - A mini-review

Renske Huffmeijer*, Marinus H. Van Ijzendoorn, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Interest in oxytocin has increased rapidly over the last decades. Consequently, quite a number of studies have addressed the influence of oxytocin on social stress, perception, cognition, and decision making in healthy adults as well as in clinical samples characterized by some form of social disturbance. Surprisingly little research on oxytocin has focused on ageing populations. This is particularly striking in two areas of study: the role of oxytocin in grandparents' behavior toward and bonding with their grandchildren and the effects of oxytocin on the neurocognitive processing of socioemotional stimuli. The current mini-review offers an overview of the literature on the involvement of oxytocin in parental behavior and neurocognitive functioning, and discusses the relevance of these findings to ageing individuals. As the literature shows that oxytocin is profoundly involved in parenting and in bonding throughout life, it is highly likely that oxytocin plays a role in grandparenting and bonding between grandparents and grandchildren as well. However, results obtained with younger adults may not be directly applicable to older individuals in yet another type of relationship. The possibility that age-related changes occur in the oxytocin system (which is at present unclear) must be taken into account. In addition, ageing impairs neurocognitive processes that are profoundly affected by oxytocin (including some aspects of memory and emotion recognition) and is associated with alterations in both structure and function of the amygdala, which is prominently involved in mediating effects of oxytocin. Research investigating the ageing oxytonergic system and studies focusing on the involvement of oxytocin in socioemotional neurocognitive processes and social behavior in elderly individuals, including grandparents, are therefore urgently needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-39
Number of pages8
JournalGerontology
Volume59
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes

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Keywords

  • Ageing
  • Amygdala
  • Bonding
  • Grandparenting
  • Neurocognitive processes
  • Oxytocin

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