Posted on Jul 11, 2017, 6 a.m.
Recent study finds that older adults, who engaged in above average levels of sexual activity, scored higher in a series of cognitive tests.
A new Oxford University study has shown that older adults over age fifty who are sexually active have higher cognitive function. The researchers took 73 participants both male and female who were subjected to a series of questioning to assess wellbeing and frequency of sexual intercourse (never, monthly or weekly). These tests were to determine an individual's abilities to reflect cognitive abilities. The study was published in The Journals of Gerontology.
The cognitive tests measured the participant's verbal fluency and ability to visualise objects and the spaces between them.
1. Verbal Fluency criteria - participants were asked questions reflecting their cognitive abilities. These questions included naming as many animals as possible in 60 seconds and listing words beginning with the letter F.
2. Visuospatial ability - participants were asked to make a copy of intricate designs and to draw a clock face from memory.
The most sexually active respondents scored very high in the tests. However, there was no impact on memory capacity, language skills, or attention span in people who reported to have frequent sex as participants scored equally well regardless of frequency. The new study is an extension of earlier research in 2016 which also showed similar results from sexually active older adults who scored high on cognitive tests.
Positive Health Benefits Linked to Dopamine
According to co-author Dr. Nele Demeyere, the studies show a link between cognitive health and an active sexual lifestyle. As opposed to large population studies, the new smaller study had the advantage to test separate aspects of cognitive functions. One of these subtests that were found to be important was verbal fluency. The greater detail in the information gathered shows that the positive health effects of sexual activity may be linked to dopamine in the brain controlling executive functions and memory.
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia which impacts executive functions instead of memory as typified in Alzheimer's patients. Dr. Demeyere is working on a new project called translational neuropsychology, which includes the development of more robust cognitive measurements to detect vascular dementia in its earliest stages. Using large population studies, Demeyere is looking forward to the results.
Understanding the Biological Mechanisms
The hope is for future research that could shed some light on how human biology affects sexual activity which improves cognitive abilities. The interest of researchers now is the role hormones like oxytocin and dopamine play in the positive effects of sex. According to lead researcher Dr. Hayley Wright, the one area worth researching further is the underlying biological mechanisms influencing higher cognitive functions.
Younger people are inclined to think older people do not have a sex life but we must challenge these misconceptions. The positive impact of sexual activity in those over 50 is known and go beyond the notion of sexual health and wellbeing. Every new study on sexual activity brings us a bit closer to understanding the underlying mechanisms that promote improved cognitive functions in older people.
Hayley Wright et al, Frequent Sexual Activity Predicts Specific Cognitive Abilities in Older Adults, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B (2017). DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbx065