A new study led by Penn State researchers found a link between low sexual satisfaction in middle age and early cognitive decline. The researchers analyzed erectile dysfunction, sexual satisfaction, and cognition in hundreds of men between the ages of 56 and 68. The study found that erectile dysfunction and a decline in sexual satisfaction was associated with future memory loss.
According to Scienmag, the study, published in the journal Gerontologist, is the first to longitudinally track this link and may have discovered a novel risk factor for cognitive decline.
“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,” said Martin Sliwinski, who directs the Center for Healthy Aging at Penn State and is the co-author of the study. “What we found connects to what scientists are beginning to understand about the link between life satisfaction and cognitive performance.”
Sliwinski said that while his team of researchers found a strong correlation between erectile function, cognition, and sexual satisfaction, they can only guess the underlying cause.
“Scientists have found that if you have low satisfaction generally, you are at higher risk for health problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and other stress-related issues that can lead to cognitive decline,” he explained. “Improvements in sexual satisfaction may actually spark improvements in memory function. We tell people they should get more exercise and eat better foods. We’re showing that sexual satisfaction also has importance for our health and general quality of life.”
The researchers used survey data from 818 men who participated in the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging. They tested memory and neurological processing speed over the 12-year-span from age 56 to 68. Concurrently, they measured the men’s erectile function and sexual satisfaction using the International Index of Erectile Function, a self-reported assessment for sexual health.
Riki Slayday, a doctoral candidate at Penn State and lead author of the study. says that when the researchers mapped out the relationship between erectile function and sexual satisfaction over time, they found consistent increases and decreases in cognitive function.
“These associations survived adjustment of demographic and health factors, which tells us there is a clear connection between our sex lives and our cognition,” said Slayday.
Previous research has already established a link between vascular changes and erectile function. Sliwinski points out that the active ingredient in Viagra was originally developed to treat cardiovascular problems, so that connection has already been established. How erectile function manifests in other areas of health may be the next area of research.
“We have a pill for treating erectile dysfunction,” he said. “What we don’t have is an effective treatment for memory loss. Instead of the conversation being about treating ED, we should see that as a leading indicator for other health problems, and also focus on improving sexual satisfaction and overall well-being, not just treating the symptoms.”
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