14.04.2024

A bad sex life in middle-age raises men’s risk of DEMENTIA

We already know that a bad sex life can lead to relationship problems and may raise the risk of heart disease. But now scientists at Penn State University say that it could also leave men at higher risk of suffering from dementia.

In a study involving 818 men in their 50s who were tracked for more than a decade, scientists found those who had poor sex lives showed a faster decline on memory tests than those who did not.

Scientists suggested this may be because individuals with poor sex were more likely to face chronic stress, which could cause atrophy of the areas of the brain linked to memory. But they also suggested it could be a sign of poor heart health, which is also known to raise the risk of memory problems.

In the study, published today in the journal of the Gerontological Society of Ameria, the scientists recruited people who served in the US military between 1965 and 1975.

Participants were about 56 years old on average at the start of the study but had turned 68 by the end.

None had erectile dysfunction or cognitive impairment at the start of the study.

In a study involving 818 men in their 50s who were tracked for more than a decade, scientists found those who had poor sex lives showed a faster decline on memory tests than those who did not (stock image)

In a study involving 818 men in their 50s who were tracked for more than a decade, scientists found those who had poor sex lives showed a faster decline on memory tests than those who did not (stock image)

Each was questioned at the start of the study and twice more at six-year intervals for the next 12 years.

They were asked about their sexual satisfaction, with participants filling in self-reported assessments on their relationship, or relationships, and intercourse.

A battery of tests was also carried out to measure cognition.

Results showed that participants who reported having a poor sex life were more likely to have a decline in memory than those who did not.

Men who had a lower erectile function at the start of the study had greater declines in memory over time than others.

These changes stayed even when scientists adjusted for demographic and health factors, such as age and body weight.

Dr Riki Slayday, a doctoral candidate at the university involved in the study, said: ‘When we mapped the relationship over time, we found increases or decreases in erectile dysfunction were associated with concurrent increases or decreases in cognitive function.

‘These associations survived adjustments for demographic and health factors, which tells us there is a clear connection between our sex lives and our cognition.’

The researchers called for more monitoring of erectile function in older age as a potential sign of cognitive decline before the age of 70.

The study was observational, and could not deduce why a poor sex life may lead to people suffering a faster cognitive decline. But scientists suggested three main theories.

On the one hand, they said someone who had a poor sex life may be exercising less often, have a worse diet and have worse heart health.

This has already been suggested to raise the risk of memory problems because these individuals are more likely to suffer damage to blood vessels in the brain — which can harm cells involved in memory.

Other theories included that the men who had worse sex lives may have lower levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone. This, they suggested, could lead to a smaller hippocampus, involved in memory.

They also suggested that chronic stress due to a poor sex life or other factors could be behind the results. They said that the constant release of cortisol — the stress hormone — could cause the hippocampus, which has many receptors for the hormone, to atrophy in old age.

It was not clear whether a poor sex life could also leave women more likely to suffer memory problems.

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