Marriage May Help Stave Off Dementia

Source: University College London; National University Singapore; BMJ

Summary: A new study found that marriage may reduce the risk of dementia. As being married is associated with healthier lifestyle and lower mortality.

The number of people living with dementia (not a specific disease; characterized by impairment of memory loss and judgement) is on the rise and this makes it a global public health priority. Urgent attention is needed to identify the modifiable risk factors. The findings indicate lifelong singletons and widowers are at heightened risk of developing the disease, however being single may no longer be quite the health hazard it once seemed to be. Researchers have based their findings on data from 15 relevant studies until the end of 2016. These looked at the possible role of marital status on the risk of developing dementia. Participants more than 800,000 were involved from Europe, North and South America and Asia. The available evidence was published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

You don’t have to be demented to be married, but it sure helps

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The study included married people between 20 – 80%; widowed between 8 – 48%; divorced between 0 – 16%; lifelong singletons between 0 – 32.5%. Marriage may increase frequent social contact which indirectly improves the cognitive reserve and reduces harmful lifestyle behaviors of an individual. Being unmarried is linked to adverse health behaviors, boost stress levels and poorer health outcomes. The systematic review and meta-analysis of the study showed that lifelong singletons were 42% more likely to develop dementia and widowed were 20% more likely to develop dementia when compared to married people, after taking account of age and sex.

Researchers suggest that should marital status be added to the list of modifiable risk factors for dementia, “the challenge remains as to how these observations can be translated into effective means of dementia prevention.” The discovery of potentially modifiable risk factors doesn’t mean that dementia can easily be prevented, they emphasize.

More Information:

Andrew Sommerlad et al, “Marriage and risk of dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies”, Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, (2017). DOI: 10.1136/jnnp-2017-316274

Christopher P L H Chen et al, “You don’t have to be married to prevent dementia, but it sure helps”, Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry (2017).  DOI: 10.1136/jnnp-2017-317178


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