Excessive television watching linked to poorer memory

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Watching television for more than three and a half hours a day in later life is associated with a decline in verbal memory, according to new research from University College London (UCL).

The study analysed data from 3662 adults aged 50 and over, and found that watching TV for more than three and a half hours per day was associated with a decline in memory of words and language over the following six years.

The association was independent of other individual socio-economic, behavioural and lifestyle factors, including time spent sitting down.

Participants from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) were asked in 2008/9 and in 2014/15 about how much television they watched daily, and they also took part in verbal memory and fluency tests.

Researchers found that adults who watched television for more than three and a half hours a day experienced, on average, an eight to 10 per cent decrease in verbal memory, while those who watched less than three and a half hours of television per day experienced, on average, a decrease in verbal memory of around four to five per cent over the same period.

“There has been interest for over a decade in the effect of television viewing behaviours on cognition, but much of this literature has concentrated on children,” explained Dr Daisy Fancourt from UCL.

“Much less attention has been paid to the effects of television viewing at the other end of the lifespan, despite it being hypothesised for over 25 years that watching excessive television could contribute to the development of dementia.

“While watching television may also have benefits such as educational benefits from watching documentaries and relaxation benefits as a way of reducing stress, overall, this suggests that adults over the age of 50 should try and ensure television viewing is balanced with other contrasting activities.”

Dr Fancourt also suggested that watching television could reduce the amount of time that people spend on activities that could contribute to cognitive preservation, such as reading.

Additionally, interactive screen-based activities, such as video gaming and using the internet, can have cognitive benefits, such as improved problem-solving skills, whereas the alert-but-passive nature of watching television may create cognitive stress which could contribute to memory decline.

How much television do you watch? Will this study make you reconsider your viewing habits?

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Written by Ben


Total Comments: 27
  1. 0

    A lot depends on the shows you watch. Documentaries keep the brain informed,Television can be used in a beneficial manner Sometimes you meed to watch a good comedy to make you laugh which is good for your health.

  2. 0

    A lot depends on the shows you watch. Documentaries keep the brain informed,Television can be used in a beneficial manner Sometimes you meed to watch a good comedy to make you laugh which is good for your health.

  3. 0

    With the mind-numbing trash on commercial channels, no wonder people flock to the ABC for their news…. and those who own the commercial channels want to buy it …

    … and no wonder the MNT (mind numbing trash) destroys brain cells…. but then, you’d have to have about two brain cells warily circling one another like prize fighters to even watch it …

  4. 0

    1. Define “excessive” TV viewing.
    2. The nature of the shows watch would probably be more instrumental in cognitive decline. There are some very educational and brain stimulating shows, the trick is to mix viewing up with reading and socialising, I would think

    • 0

      Totally agree Patti – we watch documentaries and love The Chase
      (British version) Andrew O’Keefe puts us off the Aussie one! Also other
      stimulating Quizzes and Words and Numbers. Limit ourselves to
      other shows and cannot stand Lifestyle programmes. I do a lot of reading
      and even pick up a book when the ads. are on! Also have to have crochet in my hands even when watching TV cannot just sit there.

  5. 0

    Don’t have tv on during the daytime. Get out and volunteer, help locally, join groups, engage in this work then when you get home, pick educating programs, quizzes, etc., keep learning, oh yes, watch comedy, decent funny witty ones.

    • 0

      Totally agree about watching comedy and there is plenty of informative doco’s to choose from, both coming from the UK. Sadly a lot of the best of British comedians have died. Thankfully we have the great Sir David Attenborough with his brilliant cinemaphotographers who produce some of the best docos in the world, showcasing our magnificent wildlife and insects, etc etc. Hopefully, there will be someone to step into his shoes when he meets his maker.

  6. 0

    No worries, they have already taken steps to fix this problem by showing programs that are not worth watching.

    Interactive videos on u tube where you can make comments, are probably better for the memory

    • 0

      Wonderful to know their hearts are on our side and their minds are in touch with their work…. what with all this PC stuff these days – jeez – you can’t even watch Battle of Britain on Battle of Britain day – too uncool these days…. and forget D-Day….. too messy….

      Brace for Captain Cook – Invader (aka Hammer Of The Blacks) ….. with all these foreigners in the country nowadays it’s easy to get a different Slant on Australia’s Dark and Manly history…. or an Indian or something who reckons flashing the Oz Flag on Oz Day means you’re a bogan…

      **rolls eyes to heaven**

    • 0

      .. or some narrer-gutted sheila who reckons men should be taking out the garbage and shoveling sh#t instead of building the nation for them … life’s cheap for that kind….

      **rolls eyes to heaven again**

    • 0

      Nope, no more war movies on Anzac day, unless you are quick

  7. 0

    I agree that TV is not so good.

    The difference from a computer is that the computer requires some form of input and response, rather than sit like a store dummy absorbing whatever is dished up, even the docutainment dumbed down rubbish, or ill-informed propaganda that you can see on SKY and similar.

    Some programs that stimulate discussion on the receiver’s end may be positive and beneficial, even to the stage of yelling at the TV. I also agree about the comedy, but it’s a pity that most of the quality stuff is so old that we have all seen it before.

    Roll on “Mad as Hell” and similar.

    • 0

      Yes, Janus, what’s happened to all the comedy writers? They seem to be a dying breed unless the producers are too busy snorting happy stuff to need comedies.

  8. 0

    right on , Charlie, like the old song goes “54 channels and nothing on”
    Its just repeats after repeat, usually old docos,heaps of useless talking heads, comedies(and I use the word loosely) filled with swearing and bad language,whole days filled with old series, movies that have been shown so often most people know what the actors are going to say. Free to air TV is a load of RUBBISH. And i didn’t even mention the cooking, travel and shopping shows!

    • 0

      Harry Potter and The Chain of Repeats…… The Big Bland Theory …. How I Mucked Your Mother …. Everybody Hates Raymond … occasionally Rocky.. Rocky… arrrrr… hey, Adrienne, was’at guy’s name.. ROCKY…. Sick of The Future I,II,III …. Rambo Past Blech …. Chronicles of Narnia and the Talking Lion …. Forrest Glum ….

  9. 0

    Exercise in a natural environment also confers benefits to brain and emotional health and something that everyone can do (save those in an iron lung who may have logistical problems) even for a few minutes daily.

    • 0

      Last time I tried to scale a mountain I would once have run up – the pain was abominable and I had to stop (The Abominable Slow Man?), cop being eaten by mosquitoes for five minutes and then make my way slowly down clutching right side of chest – damn those doctors … how the mighty have fallen into old age…

  10. 0

    Well, Trebor, I suppose you’re too old and set in your ways to learn how much racism/sexism hurt other people, but really!

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