Background: The capacity to adapt to environmental stressors is essential for older adults’ health and well-being. It is unclear how cognitive impairment may disrupt the capacity. Here we examined the relationship between self-perceptions of stress and the neurobiological response to a laboratory model of stress adaptation in amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), a group at high risk for dementia.

Results: aMCI group and cognitively healthy controls did not differ in neurobiological acute stress recovery (indexed by similarity in neural patterns at baseline and after recovery from cognitive challenges). However, compared to controls, aMCI group had significantly lower scores on PSS-PW. Notably, higher PSS-PW was associated with greater acute neural recovery in controls, but not aMCI.

Methods: We assessed self-perceptions of stress adaptation with the Perceived Stress Scale subscales, measuring perceived helplessness (i.e., negatively worded items, PSS-NW) and self-efficacy (i.e., positively worded items, PSS-PW) in response to stress. At a subsequent laboratory fMRI visit, we indexed neurobiological stress adaptation by assessing and comparing functional network connectivity at baseline and immediately following, and after recovery from, cognitive challenges.

Conclusions: Studying stress adaptation in aMCI may shed light on pathways that contribute to the onset and progress of cognitive deterioration in aging.