Katz & Resnick

A study published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association provides some guidance about how much recreational TV watching and screen time is detrimental to mental and physical health among middle-aged and older adults.

Given the many hours of time spent in front of the TV for older adults in long-term care settings, the findings from this study are particularly relevant.

Basically, the amount of time spent watching TV increases the risk of having dementia, a stroke or Parkinson’s disease. 

The objective of the study, “Associations between recreational screen time and brain health in middle-aged and older adults,” was to explore the associations between recreational screen time, which included television and computer use, excluding the time spent on computers at work. The authors were Chenjie Xi, Zhi Cao, Zuolin Lu, Yabing Hou, Yaogang Wang and Xinyu Zhang. 

Data from the United Kingdom Biobank was used and a total 407,792 participants were included in the review. Approximately half were male and half were female, with a mean age of 55.8 years. Participants were followed until they were diagnosed with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, had a cerebral vascular event, died or when follow-up stopped.

Baseline data was collected between 2007 and 2010 and individuals were followed through till 2021. On average participants were followed for 12.6 years.

Over half of the participants (61%) spent between one to four hours a day in screen time. The mean television viewing time was 2.7 hours, and the mean recreational computer screen time was 1.1 hours.

Findings indicated that there was a relationship between television viewing and the risk of dementia, stroke and Parkinson’s Disease.

People who engaged in television watching for one to three hours per day had a 1.02 times greater risk of developing dementia. Watching television for three to five hours per day resulted in a slightly higher risk at 1.16  times greater chance of developing dementia. Those that spent more than five hours per day watching television had a 1.41 increased risk of developing dementia.

Watching television for one to three hours per day led to a .98 increased risk of stroke, three to five hours a day of television watching led to a 1.01 risk of stroke, and greater than five hours a day of television watching was associated with a 1.12 increased risk of stroke.

Lastly, watching television for one to three hours was associated with a .98 increased risk of developing Parkinson’s; at three to five hours a day of television watching there was a 1.02 increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease; and at more than five hours a day of television watching there was a 1.28 increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. 

The association between time spent watching television and the risk of dementia was stronger for those with a college degree than those with lower levels of education. A large number of factors that could impact these outcomes were controlled for, including age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, employment, smoking, alcohol use, sleep, body mass index, depression, hypertension, diabetes, physical activity, intelligence and reaction time.

There was no association between recreational computer use and brain disorders after controlling for all of the potentially confounding factors.

Although this is not the first study to suggest that long hours of sedentary behavior watching television is bad for seniors’ health, it is another good reminder to limit time engaged in this activity for residents, you and your family members.

Future research needs to confirm these findings with an older population post-retirement, where television viewing may be even higher.           

Barbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP is a Professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, the Associate Dean of Research and the Sonya Ziporkin Gershowitz Chair in Gerontology.  She is currently the co-editor of the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, or JAMDA.

Co-editor Paul Katz, MD, CMD, is professor and chair of the Department of Geriatrics at Florida State University’s College of Medicine. He is also past president of AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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