TV and Alzheimer’s

Television is the only mid-life recreation positively linked to developing Alzheimer’s disease, says a report today. Alzheimer’s affects one in 20 aged over 65 and nearly a quarter of those over 85, causing bouts of dementia, loss of memory, wrenching personality changes and, eventually, death. The study found that the disease was linked to those less involved in recreation between the ages of 20 and 60 than healthy people of similar background. The only exception was watching television, where Alzheimer’s patients were more active viewers in mid-life, Dr Robert Friedland reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with colleagues at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the University Hospitals of Cleveland. He said: “Of all the activities we quantified – passive, intellectual and physical – Alzheimer’s patients are in middle life less active in all of them – except for one, which is television.” He accepts that it is possible for television to be intellectually stimulating “but probably that is not what is happening most of the time, especially in America, where people watch an average of four hours a day. “I think it is bad for the brain to watch four hours of television a day.”

The brain has been honed by evolutionary forces to be active, and learning is an important part of life. “When you watch TV you can be in a semi-conscious state where you really are not doing any learning.” The results suggest that recreational inactivity in mid-life may be either a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, a consequence of early, undetected symptoms of the disease, or both. Previous studies have shown that well-educated people are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists in one study reported that each year of education reduced the risk of developing the disease by 17 per cent. Researchers have paid relatively little attention to the relationship between recreational activities – a hobby, gardening, reading or any activity other than work – and the disease.

Dr Friedland’s team questioned 193 patients who either possibly or probably had Alzheimer’s and 358 of their healthy friends, neighbours or acquaintances about how frequently they took part in 26 recreational activities classed as intellectual, physical, or passive. They report that the healthy had been more involved in all three activity categories in mid-life than had Alzheimer’s patients


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