Low Sexual Satisfaction Linked to Later Life Memory Decline
A new study led by researchers at Penn State has found that low sexual satisfaction in midlife may serve as an early warning sign for future cognitive decline. The study, which tracked associations between erectile function, sexual satisfaction, and cognition in hundreds of men aged 56 to 68, found that declines in sexual satisfaction and erectile function were correlated with future memory loss.
The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Gerontologist is the first to longitudinally track sexual satisfaction alongside sexual health and cognition, the researchers say. Their findings point to a new potential 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 see how they changed together over time,” said Martin Sliwinski, professor of human development and Family Studies at Penn State and co-author of the study. “What we found connects with what scientists are beginning to understand about the link between life satisfaction and cognitive performance.”
The study explored the relationship between physical changes such as microvascular changes relevant to erectile function and psychological changes such as decreased sexual satisfaction to determine how these changes are related to cognition. They examined changes that begin in midlife because it represents a transition period in which declines in erectile function, cognition, and sexual satisfaction begin to emerge.
Sliwinski added that while the team discovered a strong correlation between these three health factors, they can only speculate on their cause. “Scientists have found that if you have low Fundamentally satisfaction, you are at increased risk of health problems such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and other stress-related problems that can lead to cognitive decline,” he said. “Improvements in sexual satisfaction may actually lead to an improvement in memory function. We tell people to exercise more and eat better food. We are showing that sexual satisfaction is also important for our Fundamentally health and quality of life.”
For the study, the researchers used survey data from 818 men who participated in the Vietnam-era twin study of aging. Through neuropsychological tests, such as tests of memory and processing speed, they examined participants’ cognitive changes over a 12-year period, from ages 56 to 68, adjusting for participants’ cognitive ability in young adulthood. Their erectile function and sexual satisfaction were measured along with cognition using the International Index of Erectile Function, a self-reported assessment of male sexual health. The researchers then built a statistical model to understand how these three variables changed as people aged.
“Sexual health research has historically focused on quantifiable facets of sexuality, such as the number of sexual partners or the frequency of sexual activity,” said Riki Slayday, a Penn State doctoral candidate and lead author of the study. “What we were interested in was the perception of that activity, how someone feels about their sex life, and how that influences cognitive function because multiple people could be physically in the same situation but experience completely different levels of satisfaction.”
The study found that decreased erectile function and sexual satisfaction were associated with decreased memory which points to a connection between psychological and physical health.
“When we mapped this relationship over time, we found increases or decreases in erectile function and sexual satisfaction were associated with concurrent increases or decreases in cognitive function,” Slayday said. “These associations survived adjustment for demographic and health factors which tells us that there is a clear connection between our sex lives and our cognition.”
Previous studies have found a link between microvascular changes and changes in erectile function over time. In fact, the active ingredient in Viagra (Sildenafil) was originally developed to treat cardiovascular problems; thus, the connection between vascular health and erectile function is well understood. How erectile function connects to other aspects of health should be an area for future research.
Increased screening and monitoring of erectile function as a vital sign of health may help identify people at risk for cognitive decline before age 70, he said. The researchers note that the older adult population in the US is expected to double in the next 30 years, meaning twice as many people are likely to reach age 60 and experience decreased erectile function and sexual satisfaction.
“We already have a pill to treat erectile dysfunction. What we don’t have is an effective treatment for memory loss,” Sliwinski said. “Rather than the conversation being about treating erectile dysfunction, we should be looking at it as a leading indicator of other health problems and also focus on improving sexual satisfaction and general well-being, not just treating the symptom.”
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Reference: Slayday RE, Bell TR, Lyons MJ et al. Erectile function, sexual satisfaction, and cognitive decline in men from midlife to adulthood. Meeks S ed. Gerontologist. 2023;63(2):382-394. doi:10.1093/geront/gnac151
This article has been republished from materials provided by Penn State University. Note: The material may have been edited for length and content.
For more information please visit https://www.psu.edu/news/research/story/low-sexual-satisfaction-linked-memory-decline-later-life-study-finds/.