Background: previous cross-sectional studies have reported bidirectional associations between sexual activity and cognitive function among older people. However, the temporal associations have not been studied.
Methods: community-dwelling men aged 70+ from the Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project were assessed. This study was based on 986 men at baseline, 829 men at 2 year and 595 men at 5-year follow-up. Sexual function using a standardised questionnaire (erectile function, sexual activity, sexual satisfaction, sexual desire) was analysed by generalised estimating equations to examine associations between changes in sexual function and changes in mini-mental state examination (MMSE) across three time points over 5 years. Age, BMI, comorbidity, self-rated health, smoking, number of medications, country of birth, education, marital status, depression and reproductive hormones were also measured at all time points.
Results: in unadjusted models, declines in erectile function (β = -0.317) and sexual activity (β = -0.575) over time were statistically significantly associated with a decline in MMSE over time. The associations observed in the unadjusted models remained after adjusting for a range of covariables. Declines in sexual satisfaction and sexual desire over time were not associated with changes in MMSE.
Conclusions: our findings provide evidence of a longitudinal temporal relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function. Further studies are warranted to examine whether maintaining a healthy sexual life has a positive effect on cognitive function in older men.