A neurologist told the Taiwanese Alzheimer's Disease Association's annual convention yesterday that too much TV and depression have been linked to degenerative brain disorders.
Hsu Wen-chun (徐文俊), a physician in the neurology department of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, said new research has shown that excessive TV viewing is linked to brain deterioration, with every extra hour spent watching TV increasing the likelihood of getting a degenerative disorder by 1.3 times.
Hsu said that Alzheimer's was a gradual process of brain degeneration and that the disease can only be diagnosed when the symptoms have become apparent.
Treatment can at best only stop further deterioration, not reverse the damage. Even after treatment, Hsu said, the best that one can hope for is that the brain is returned to the state it was in a year before diagnosis was made.
Medical experts said the best way forward is to focus on prevention rather than treatment.
Hsu said remaining both mentally active -- by reading, playing chess or mahjong or other such activities -- and spiritually active are vital.
He said having strong religious beliefs also seemed to have a positive effect.
Research has suggested the reason watching TV might have a damaging effect on the brain is because when people watch TV their brains passively receive information rather than actively processing it.
Hsu said that depression might also be related to degenerative disorders, with those who develop depression after middle age being more susceptible.
He said that a common misconception is that degenerative disorders only occur in the elderly. He said people could develop symptoms in their 40s or 50s.
"If you find yourself forgetting things you usually remember such as locking the door or forgetting to turn off the tap, then you might do well to get a check-up," he said.
The conference heard that the combined efforts of a privately owned medical manufacturer and a hospital have lead to a new drug called YC-1, which has shown positive improvements in memory in clinical trials for mice with degenerative disorders.