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Antiglucocorticoid therapy for older adults with anxiety and co-occurring cognitive dysfunction: results from a pilot study with mifepristone




In older adults with anxiety disorders, chronically elevated cortisol may contribute to cognitive impairment and elevated anxiety. We conducted a pilot study with mifepristone, a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist, as a potential treatment for late-life anxiety disorders and co-occurring cognitive dysfunction.


Fifteen individuals 60 years and older with an anxiety disorder plus cognitive dysfunction participated in the 12-week study. In the first week, participants were randomly assigned to mifepristone 300 mg daily or placebo. In the subsequent 3 weeks, all participants received mifepristone 300 mg. Mifepristone was then discontinued, and the participants were reassessed 8 weeks later. We examined the following: (1) cognitive changes; (2) worry symptom severity; (3) safety and tolerability; and (4) salivary cortisol before, during, and after mifepristone exposure.


Overall safety, tolerability, and high retention supported the feasibility of this research. Participants with higher baseline cortisol levels (peak cortisol >6.0 ng/ml, n = 5) showed improvements in memory, executive function, and worry severity after 3–4 weeks of mifepristone with persistent memory and worry improvements 8 weeks after mifepristone discontinuation. Individuals with low-to-normal baseline cortisol (n = 8) showed little to no improvement. As expected, cortisol levels rose during mifepristone exposure and returned to pretreatment levels 8 weeks after mifepristone discontinuation. In the first week of treatment, there were no differences between placebo-treated and mifepristone-treated participants.


The results of this pilot study warrant further testing of antiglucocorticoid agents in late-life anxiety disorders with co-occurring cognitive dysfunction. Mifepristone is hypothesized to have benefits in patients with evidence of glucocorticoid excess. Directions for further study are discussed. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.