The ‘passive activity’ of watching TV may impair memory in older people.
Researchers at University College London in the United Kingdom analyzed data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) on 3,662 adults aged 50 and older.
In 2008–2009, and again in 2014–2015, the ELSA participants had answered questions about the time they spent watching TV.
At these times, they also completed tests of verbal memory and fluency.
The analysis revealed that those who watched TV for 3.5 hours or more per day had an average decline of 8–10 percent in word- and language-related memory over the 6 years the study covered. This is compared with a lower 4–5 percent average decline in those who watched fewer hours of TV per day over the same period.
The study, which now features in the journal Scientific Reports, found no such links between TV viewing time and differences in “semantic fluency.”
The verbal memory tests asked the participants to memorize and then recall lists of words within a given time, while the semantic fluency tests asked them to list as many examples of a category (such as a type of animal) as they could think of within a given time.
The study authors note that while there has been a lot of research into the effects of watching TV on cognition, most of it has focused on children.
“Much less attention,” says study co-author Dr. Daisy Fancourt, who works in the Department of Behavioural Science and Health, “has been paid to the effects of television viewing at the other end of the lifespan, despite it being hypothesized for over 25 years that watching excessive television could contribute to the development of dementia.”
Watching TV is a ‘passive activity’
An interesting point about the new study is the fact that the link between extensive TV viewing and greater verbal memory decline remained even after the researchers adjusted the results for how much time people spent sitting.