A new study has found a correlation between lower levels of sexual satisfaction in men and the risk of developing dementia in later life. The Huffington Post reports on a study of 818 men by researchers at Penn State University. They found that issues such as erectile dysfunction (ED) were correlated with cognitive decline in later years.
The study has recently been published in the journal Gerontologist. Co-author Martin Sliwinski commented: “What was unique about our approach is that we measured memory function and sexual function at each point in the longitudinal study, so we could look at how they changed together over time.”
The men in the study were aged between 56 and 68. It is estimated that around half of all men will experience ED to some degree after the age of 50. The condition has a range of causes that can be either physical or psychological in origin. ED can often be the first symptom of a more serious underlying health problem, such as heart disease.
This is because a good supply of blood is needed to produce an erection that is hard enough for a satisfactory sexual experience, and heart disease causes a narrowing of the arteries, meaning that the blood can’t circulate efficiently around the body. ED can also be caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
The researchers found that participants who reported an overall low level of life satisfaction were also more likely to develop dementia in later life, and also to experience problems with sexual function. This may be related to the fact that ED can also be caused by depression and anxiety.
The issue is complicated further, because sometimes it can be difficult to know whether the ED is the cause or the result of a mental health problem. Sometimes, the condition can make men feel inadequate and isolated, and they may retreat from intimate relationships that they once relied on as a source of emotional support.
The study commented: “We tested multilevel models hierarchically, adjusting for demographics, frequency of sexual activity, and physical and mental health confounders to examine how changes in erectile function and sexual satisfaction related to changes in cognitive performance.”
“Decreasing sexual health may signal an increased risk for cognitive decline. We discuss potential mechanisms, including microvascular changes and psychological distress.”
Conversely, there is some evidence that taking Viagra (sildenafil) can have a protective effect on the brain. The Harvard Health Journal reports that sildenafil may boost brain cell growth and lower the risk of developing amyloid tangles that can lead to dementia. However, further research is needed to confirm the findings.
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