Circadian changes in plasma 18-hydroxy-11-deoxycorticosterone (18-OH-DOC), total and unbound cortisol were studied in four groups: seven healthy young men, six elderly men, six elderly women and six elderly demented patients of both sexes. The daily activities of the subjects were synchronous; blood samples were taken every 4 h and 4 hourly urine samples were collected only from the young men. A circadian rhythm was defined for plasma 18-OH-DOC, total and unbound cortisol in all groups; the secretory patterns of these steroids were parallel, as were the profiles of urinary 18-OH-DOC and unconjugated cortisol. When compared with respect to sex, the 24-h mean level of total cortisol was higher in women; that of unbound cortisol was higher in the three groups of elderly patients than in the young men. No major changes in plasma steroids were observed between elderly demented patients (mainly women) and healthy elderly women. The phasing of total and unbound cortisol showed no major modifications with age, sex or senile dementia. Acrophases of 18-OH-DOC were earlier in elderly patients than in young men. Amplitudes were not modified with sex in elderly patients but were always lower in the demented patients. A circadian rhythm was defined for 18-OH-DOC, unconjugated cortisol, 17-hydroxycorticosteroids (17-OH-CS) and 17-ketosteroids in the urine of the young men. The acrophases of 18-OH-DOC and unbound cortisol were close, as were those of 17-OH-CS and 17-ketosteroids. The lag was short between the acrophases of 18-OH-DOC in plasma and urine and between those of plasma unbound cortisol and urinary unconjugated cortisol; it was much larger between the acrophases of plasma total cortisol and 17-OH-CS.
Thus, the process of ageing, and the possible alterations in the central nervous system which are often seen in normal ageing, induced no major modifications in the temporal organization of adrenocortical function, even in subjects who were very advanced in age.