Thursday, February 28, 2019 (HealthDay News) – The old adage, "TV rots your brain," could have some validity for people as they get older.
In a new study, middle-aged people who watched television for more than 3.5 hours a day experienced a decline in their ability to remember words and language over the next six years, British researchers found.
What's worse, it seems that the more TV you watch, the more your verbal memory will deteriorate, the researchers said.
"Overall, our results suggest that adults over the age of 50 should try to ensure that the audience is balanced with other contrasting activities," said researcher Daisy Fancourt. She is a senior researcher at University College London.
For the study, the researchers relied on data from a long-term study of aging involving more than 3,600 residents of England.
Participants reported the amount of TV hours they watched daily. They also had their reasoning and reasoning skills regularly tested as part of the study.
People who watched less than 3.5 hours of TV per day do not seem to suffer any deterioration in their brain power, Fancourt said.
But more than that, people have become increasingly able to fight with words or language in tests conducted six years later.
The decline in language skills is similar to that experienced by the poor as they age, Fancourt said.
"We already know from several studies that being of low socioeconomic status is a risk factor for cognitive decline," Fancourt said. "If we compare the size of the association to watch television for more than 3.5 hours a day, it has a similar association of verbal memory as being the 20% lower of the country's wealth."
The worst deficits occurred in people who watched more than seven hours a day of television, the researchers found.
While only one association was seen in the study, there are some possible reasons why this might happen.
"Due to the accelerated changes of images, sounds and actions, even though the passive nature of receiving them – that is, television does not involve interaction like games or Internet use – television has shown in laboratory studies to lead to a more alert, but less focused, "Fancourt explained.
Some TV shows are also stressful, and stress has been linked to a decline in brain power, she added.
The specific effect on verbal skills indicates that avid TV viewing may be replacing other activities that would be better for the brain, said Rebecca Edelmayer, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer's Association.
"You're spending more time without getting involved with your family, your friends, and having social conversations because they're specifically reporting a decrease in verbal recall," Edelmayer said. "We know that engaging with others in the conversation is something that supports and protects the verbal recall."
People who want to protect their thinking skills need to socialize frequently and engage in other activities that "stretch" their brain, Edelmayer said.
In fact, a long-term study published last week in the journal Neurology found that exercising both the brain and the body during middle age may protect against dementia. This mental exercise includes reading, playing music, sewing or painting, according to the report.
"The recommendation would always be to stretch and stay as engaged as possible, whatever the connection," Edelmayer said. "We're asking you for better brain health to get out of your normal passive box."
The new study was published on February 28 in the journal Scientific Reports.
The Alzheimer's Association has more to do with protecting your brain.
SOURCES: Daisy Fancourt, Ph.D., senior researcher at University College London; Rebecca Edelmayer, Ph.D., director of scientific engagement, Alzheimer's Association, Chicago; February 28, 2019, Scientific Reports