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Watching TV for more than three hours a day may double memory decline in older people, study finds

The authors said heavy TV watchers tend to spend less time reading even though BBC bosses have been urged to be
The authors said heavy TV watchers tend to spend less time reading even though BBC bosses have been urged to be

Watching more than three hours of television a day doubles memory loss in older people, new research suggests. A study of 3,662 adults found significant declines in verbal memory ability the more television that was watched.

Scientists used memory and fluency tests on the same cohort of people six years apart.

They found that those who watched on average less than three hours’ television a day showed a decline of around four to five per cent, while those who tended to watch more than three hours a day declined by an average of eight to 10 per cent.

The research team at University College London say they believe the “alert-but-passive” nature of television watching may be creating cognitive stress which contributes to memory decline.

Older people who watch more television are also less likely to undertake activities known to preserve mental functioning such as reading, or interactive screen-based pursuits such as using the internet or playing video games.

“Whilst 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," said Dr Daisy Fancourt.

She added that television viewing may be a risk factor for the onset of dementia, but cautioned that more research was needed to establish a link.

Chris Allen, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: “We all like to curl up in front of the TV and watch our favourite shows.

But if you’re concerned that the amount of television you’re watching could be having a negative impact on your health, we would advise limiting the amount of TV you watch each day and working in some heart healthy hobbies to your routine.”

The new research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.