New Research Says More Sex Could Slow Alzheimer’s Risk

Can a vibrant sex life be your secret weapon against memory decline? New research suggests there might be a link.

A recent study by researchers from Penn State, the University of California at San Diego, and Boston universities casts new light on the relationship between sexual satisfaction, vascular health, and memory performance. The study, published March 2023 in the peer-reviewed journal Gerontology, implies that maintaining a fulfilling sex life could serve as a secret shield against memory decline.

The research was steered by Riki Slayday, a doctoral candidate at Penn State, and Dr. Tyler Bell, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California San Diego. Their team discovered that for men aged 56 to 68, even minor reductions in erectile function over a period of 12 years were linked to accelerated memory loss. This correlation persisted even after controlling for prominent risk factors for cognitive decline, such as major cardiovascular conditions and hypertension. The team also found that sexual satisfaction seemed to have a predictive value for memory loss.

Drs. Slayday and Bell took the time to unravel their findings for our readers at The Healthy @Reader’s Digest.

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Understanding the connection

The study stands out for its unique focus on microvascular health—a key player in predicting how our cognitive abilities deteriorate with age. While most research has centered on the relationship between primary cardiovascular conditions and brain health, Slayday and Bell focused on smaller but nonetheless crucial vessels. Erectile function in men emerged as a sensitive barometer of vascular health and potentially cognitive (brain) health.

Ladies, you’re not left out of this narrative. While those with erectile function have been the focus thus far, the study authors pointed out that ongoing research is actively exploring how these findings apply to women. All under consideration are factors such as alterations in blood flow that result in decreased sexual arousal, hormonal changes linked to menopause, and generally reported lower levels of sexual satisfaction in women compared to men.

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An early warning sign

The authors suggest that changes in sexual health could serve as early warning signs for future cognitive issues. Just as a dashboard warning light alerts drivers to possible car troubles, so too could shifts in sexual health prompt an investigation into cognitive wellness. Slayday and Bell urge individuals not to dismiss minor concerns, but to discuss them openly with physicians for early detection and intervention.

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Linking sexual health and cognitive decline

This new study opens up a novel conversation linking sexual health and cognitive decline. Although much remains to be explored about this relationship, their findings emphasize the potential importance of sexual health as part of a broader understanding of cognitive wellness.

Further, the researchers highlight the impact of overall life satisfaction on cognitive function. Drawing from another study published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics, they note that a single-point increase in life satisfaction rating could translate to a 28% decrease in the risk of dementia five years later. This serves as a reminder that lifestyle factors, including excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking, depression, social isolation and lack of physical activity, can significantly influence our cognitive health.

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Let’s talk about sex: Promoting sexual health dialogue

Slayday and Bell’s research strongly emphasizes the need for open discussions about sexual health. They support the need for comprehensive sex education for adults, which can guide individuals in exploring ways to boost their sexual satisfaction. Unfortunately, such education is often lacking, leaving many adults unaware of the diverse strategies available to improve their sexual experiences.

In addition, instead of a simple yes-or-no question about erectile dysfunction, they advocate for recognizing subtle shifts in erectile function for early detection and effective intervention. According to the authors, understanding the subtle nuances in these changes can pave the way for better treatment.

This research suggests a fulfilling sex life isn’t just a source of pleasure—it might also play a significant role in preserving memory and mental clarity over time. As we continue to explore the connection between sexual health and cognitive decline, the need for open dialogues, comprehensive sex education, and early intervention becomes all the more pressing. While more research is undoubtedly needed to further illuminate the connection between sexual health and cognitive function, the pioneering work of these researchers makes it clear that the conversation has started—and it’s one we can’t afford to ignore.

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Dr. Patricia Varacallo, DO
Tricia is a doctor of osteopathy with experience in primary healthcare. She received her medical degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and conducts clinical research in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, as she is motivated by the desire to contribute to the development of innovative treatments and therapies. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program, empowering individuals to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes. Dr. Varacallo loves to write— especially about health, wellness, and grief. Drawing from her own experiences of loss and caregiving, she loves to offer support and encouragement to those navigating their own grief journeys. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys traveling and exploring the sunny beaches of Florida with her significant other, always ready for their next adventure.