The study is published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in advance of print publication in the August issue.
Previous research shows American households watch on average 4.5 hours of TV a day. While much of the concern over viewing habits has been directed at children, research suggests no one spends more time glued to the tube than older folks, according to background information in the article.
People over age 65, in fact, spend more than 25 percent of their waking hours watching TV. The study found that people 76 and older watched the most TV, while those aged 26 to 35 spent the least amount of time in front of it -- less than 10 percent -- but tube time slowly climbed as people aged.
The data was from a large, nationally representative sample collected in 2006 by the Center for Health and Well Being at Princeton University. Study participants were asked to keep a diary of how they spent their day and how they felt doing certain activities.
Making other engaging activities available to the elderly could reduce their reliance on TV, the authors said.
Dr. Martin Gorbien, director of geriatric medicine and palliative care at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said the more important question isn't whether older people like television, but why some watch so much of it.
"Among seniors, we have issues of isolation, undiagnosed and untreated depression and loneliness," Gorbien said. "If you are depressed and lonely, you can be watching the most exciting thing in the world and it's not going to make you feel good."
Some people also watch lots of TV because they feel they don't have any other options -- perhaps they no longer drive, their family lives far away, friends have died, or they have chronic illnesses or pain that make it difficult to do other activities.
"What we would need to do is talk to them about their mental well-being, their physical well-being, their relationships
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