Vegging out in front of the television really can make you a vegetable. A recent study from University College London confirms previous suspicions that excessive time in front of the television is linked to cognitive decline and even dementia in older adults.
The study scrutinized data from a long-term English study of more than 3,600 adults over time. Participants were over age 50, free of dementia, and were asked how much TV time they watched in 2008 and 2009 and again in 2014 and 2015. During those periods, the adults were tested to gauge their verbal memory and fluency.
After adjusting for other behaviors that could impact mental abilities, the researchers found that older adults who spent more than 3.5 hours daily in front of the tube logged an average 8- to 10percent loss of verbal memory – about double that of aging adults who spent less time with TV.
The study echoes findings of a European analysis finding that cognitive decline in elders rose hand in hand with TV time. A US investigation found that watching soap operas and afternoon yak-yak shows eroded the mental abilities of older women.
Heavy TV viewing among middle-agers has been linked to increased Alzheimer’s risk. However, sitting for prolonged periods – as do most people who watch lots of TV – has also been identified as a culprit in mental decline.
Researchers theorized that TV time took the adults away from mentally stimulating activities such as reading, socializing, learning a foreign language, or playing a musical instrument. TJ
The study reinforces the “use-it-or-lose it” view of brain aging: activities that leave the mind passive allow mental abilities to decay, while challenges that force the mind to do work – especially to master information or skills that are unfamiliar – stimulate the growth of new neurons and connections among them.