Seniors aged 60 and over who spend long hours sitting are at greater risk of developing dementia. That’s according to a new study by researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Arizona.
Approximately 6.5 million people in the United States ages 65 and older will be living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2022. That number is estimated at 12.7 million by 2050, according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, with others including vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and more.
The study uses self-reported data from the UK Biobank, a biomedical database that includes over 500,000 participants across the UK. The study examines whether there is a connection between dementia and sedentary work. It considered the questionnaire responses of more than 145,000 participants.
A big takeaway from the study’s findings is that caregivers can help keep seniors engaged and reduce the long-term risk of dementia.
The study found that the risk of dementia decreased in seniors who were mentally active while remaining sedentary — reading a book, for example.
“It’s not sedentary time per se, but the type of recreational sedentary activity that affects dementia risk,” David Raichlen, one of the study’s authors and a professor of biological sciences and anthropology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences said in a press statement.
Raichlen also noted that an activity like watching TV requires a lower level of muscle activity and energy compared to the computer.
“While research has shown that prolonged sitting for long periods of time is associated with decreased blood flow to the brain, the relatively greater intellectual stimulation that occurs during computer use may counteract the negative effects of sedentary life,” he said.
Another notable finding was that the association between physical inactivity and dementia risk also existed in physically active seniors.
“Although we know that physical activity is good for our brain health, many of us think that we can counteract the negative effects of sitting by simply being more physically active during the day,” says Gene Alexander, one of the study’s authors, and a professor of psychology at the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Arizona said in a statement. “Our results suggest that the brain effects of sitting during our leisure activities are truly independent of how physically active we are.”
Ultimately, the results of this study are a reminder for home care organizations – and their caregivers – to look for ways to incorporate mentally engaging activities into their care plan.