Watching TV in midlife linked to later cognitive decline

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In new research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, scientists found spending moderate to high amounts of time watching television throughout midlife was linked to greater cognitive decline in the brain later in life.

Cognition includes one’s abilities to remember, think, reason, communicate and solve problems.

Life expectancy is increasing in the United States, which experts believe will likely be associated with an increase in the prevalence of cognitive impairment and dementia.

In the study, the team examined television viewing information collected in midlife from a subset of participants. Participants were asked how much they watched television in their leisure time.

The team focused on cognitive decline, risk of dementia, and structural brain markers from brain imaging scans.

The researchers found compared to people reporting that they never or seldom (low viewing) watched TV, participants reporting that they sometimes (moderate viewing) or often/very often (high viewing) watched TV had a 6.9% greater decline in cognitive function over 15 years.

Compared to participants who said they never or seldom (low viewing) watched TV during midlife, those who said they sometimes (moderate viewing) or often/very often (high viewing) watched TV had lower volumes of deep gray matter more than a decade later in life, which indicates greater brain atrophy or deterioration.

The association with the level of TV watching to brain gray matter was greater with persistent television viewing throughout midlife.

Specifically, compared to people who said they never or seldom watched TV, people who reported they sometimes or often/very often watched TV at both of those visits had lower volumes of deep gray matter in late life.

These findings suggest that the amount of television viewing, a type of sedentary behavior, may be related to cognitive decline and imaging markers of brain health.

Therefore, reducing sedentary behaviors, such as television viewing, may be an important lifestyle modification target to support optimal brain health.

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The study was presented at the Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference 2021 (EPI).  One author of the study is Kelley Pettee Gabriel, M.S., Ph.D., FAHA.

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