Watching TV for longer worsens memory

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By Alice Tuohy | Thursday 28 February 2019

Nature Scientific Reports: Television viewing and cognitive decline in older age: findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

Researchers at University College London have found that watching television for over three and a half hours a day is linked to a decline in performance on word learning and recall tasks. The findings are published in the journal, Nature Scientific Reports.

The researchers measured how much television 3,590 people over the age of 50 watched on average each day. Researchers then grouped study participants into five categories, based on how much television they watched. The researchers also measured the study participants’ verbal memory and thinking and repeated the tests six years later.

They found that watching television for more than three and a half hours a day is associated with poorer verbal memory. However, the researchers also found that the time spent watching TV did not have an effect on semantic memory, which includes tasks on object naming.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research, at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“There isn’t much existing evidence exploring whether TV consumption has any bearing on dementia risk. While this study found watching TV for longer than three and a half hours each day was linked to poorer memory performance on word tasks, it didn’t look to see if people went on to develop dementia or include people already living with a dementia diagnosis.

“It’s important that we understand how our lifestyle choices affect our memory and thinking but this study only observed a link between the two and further research is needed to investigate the causes underlying this association in more detail.

“We do know that what is good for our heart is also good for our brain health. The best current evidence shows that staying physically fit and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking only within the recommended limits and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we age.”


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Alice Tuohy