Cognitive impairments such as dementia were once accepted as the natural consequence of ageing, but clinicians now know that they are not. Some slight slowing down of cognitive functions is considered normal as we get older, but these are subtle and do not significantly impact a person’s ability to carry out their usual activities.

On the other hand, dementia has a range of symptoms and it is far more profound than simply finding it difficult to remember things. It can cause changes in personality and inappropriate or odd behaviour, as well as impact a person’s ability to take care of their personal hygiene and eat well.

A recent study by scientists at Penn State University in the US has found that there is also a correlation between cognitive health and erectile dysfunction (ED). The study involved monitoring 818 men between the ages of 56 to 68 over a 12-year timeframe.

It found that those participants who reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction also had better cognitive function than those who reported a low sex drive or other symptoms of ED.

Martin Sliwinski, professor of human development at Penn State University and co-author on the study, said: ‘Scientists have found that if you have low satisfaction generally, you are at a higher risk for health problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and other stress-related issues that can lead to cognitive decline.’

Sliwinski adds that the study shows ‘improvements in sexual satisfaction may actually spark improvement in memory function’. He added: ‘We tell people they should get more exercise and eat better foods,’ he continued. ‘We’re showing that sexual satisfaction also has importance for our health and general quality of life.’

While the study is too small to be conclusive, it highlights the importance of maintaining sexual function rather than being resigned to a low-quality sex life as you get older. Just like cognitive function, some slowing of sexual function is considered a normal part of ageing, but erectile dysfunction is not.

The good news is that ED is a treatable condition, with a variety of medications available without a prescription. It is important to consult a doctor in cases where ED is persistent, in order to rule out any serious underlying health conditions.

This is because the penis requires a good supply of blood to achieve erections, and it is regarded as a barometer of male health for the rest of the body. Erection problems could be the first sign of a range of serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

These conditions are also associated with a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Doctors emphasise that the best way to mitigate the risk of age-related health problems is to take good care of physical health, with a balanced diet and exercise, and to avoid smoking and drinking more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

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