Could marriage stave off dementia?

Dementia and marital status could be linked, according to a new Michigan State University study that found married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age.

On the other hand, divorcees are about twice as likely as married people to develop dementia, the study indicated, with divorced men showing a greater disadvantage than divorced women.

In one of the first studies of its kind, professor of sociology Hui Liu and colleagues analysed four groups of unmarried individuals: divorced or separated, widowed, never married, and cohabiters. Among them, the divorced had the highest risk of dementia.

“This research is important because the number of unmarried older adults … continues to grow, as people live longer and their marital histories become more complex,” Prof. Liu said.

“Marital status is an important but overlooked social risk/protective factor for dementia.”

Prof. Liu and her fellow researchers analysed data from the Health and Retirement Study from 2000 to 2014. The sample included more than 15,000 respondents aged 52 and older in 2000, measuring their cognitive function every two years, in person or via telephone.

The researchers also found differing economic resources only partly account for higher dementia risk among divorced, widowed and never-married respondents, but couldn’t account for higher risk in cohabiters.

In addition, health-related factors, such as behaviours and chronic conditions, slightly influenced risk among the divorced and married, but didn’t seem to affect other marital statuses.

“These findings will be helpful for health policy makers and practitioners who seek to better identify vulnerable populations and to design effective intervention strategies to reduce dementia risk,” Prof. Liu said.

Do you know or care for people with dementia? Are those people that you know with dementia single, married or divorced? Do you think companionship can help stave off dementia?

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Written by Ben

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