Survey analysis identified significant associations between sexual activity and improved cognitive function in adults aged at least 50 years, according to findings published in Age and Ageing.
In light of their discovery, Hayley Wright, BSc, MSc, PhD, and Rebecca A. Jenks, BSc, PhD, both from Coventry University, United Kingdom, suggested that clinicians include sexual health discussions in routine exams in patients older than 50 years.
"Cognitive function has been associated with a number of physical, psychological and emotional factors in older adults, such as cognitive lifestyle, psychological factors of quality of life, loneliness and mood, and physical activity," the researchers wrote.
"Sexual activity is equivalent to mild to moderate physical activity in the range of 3-5 [metabolic equivalents], but very little research has focused specifically on possible associations between sexual activity and cognitive function," Wright and Jenks wrote. "The limited amount of existing research focuses on the impact of cognitive impairment or dementia on sexual relationships in older adult couples. A recent systematic review found that those experiencing cognitive decline and dementia engaged in fewer sexual activities than their cognitively intact, nondemented counterparts."
The researchers used responses from wave 6 of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing for their analysis. They included data from men and women aged 50 to 89 years, which resulted in a sample size of 6,833 participants.
Wright and Jenks compared sexual activity during the last 12 months with scores from cognitive tests of recall and number sequencing. They used covariance analysis and also ran several models that included adjustments for mediating effects.
Results showed that after adjusting for age, education, wealth, physical activity, cohabitating, self-rated health, depression, quality of life and loneliness, sexually active men had higher number sequencing scores (F1, 2,128 = 5.444, P = .02; 20.7% variance explained) and recall scores (F1, 2,164 = 13.81, P < .001; 24.2% variance explained) than men who were sexually inactive. Additionally, sexually active women had higher recall scores (F1, 2,610 = 9.064, P = .003; 20.9% variance explained) than women who were sexually inactive, after adjustments.
The researchers reported no significant association between sexual activity and number sequencing for women.
"This study provides a starting point for understanding gender differences in the associations between sexual activity and cognition," Wright and Jenks wrote. "The findings have important implications for the inclusion of sexual health discussions during routine health checks for over 50s and for the provision of sexual counseling in this age group. This could also provide a modest benefit to cognitive function in older adults." – by Chelsea Frajerman Pardes
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.