Life expectancies have increased substantially in the last century, dramatically amplifying the proportion of individuals who will reach old age. As individuals age, cognitive ability declines, although the rate of decline differs amongst the forms of memory domains and for different individuals. Memory domains especially impacted by aging are declarative and spatial memories. The hippocampus facilitates the formation of declarative and spatial memories. Notably, the hippocampus is particularly vulnerable to aging. Genetic predisposition and lifetime experiences and exposures contribute to the aging process, brain changes and subsequent cognitive outcomes. In this review, two factors to which an individual is exposed, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, will be considered regarding the impact of age on hippocampal-dependent function. Spatial memory can be affected by cumulative exposure to chronic stress via glucocorticoids, released from the HPA axis, and from gonadal steroids (estrogens, progesterone and androgens) and gonadotrophins, released from the HPG axis. Additionally, this review will discuss how these hormones impact age-related hippocampal function. We hypothesize that lifetime experiences and exposure to these hormones contribute to the cognitive makeup of the aged individual, and contribute to the heterogeneous aged population that includes individuals with cognitive abilities as astute as their younger counterparts, as well as individuals with severe cognitive decline or neurodegenerative disease.
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