Your relationship status might be linked with your dementia risk, according to a new review in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.
Combining data from at least 15 studies, that looked at more than 812,000 people from around the world, researchers in the U.K. compared people who were widowed, divorced or never married, with people who were married.
The research showed that, compared with married people, widowed people had at least 20% higher risk of developing dementia, and those who were never married had a 42% increased risk, after adjusting for sex- and age-related risk factors.
According to research, being married likely reduces the risk of developing dementia in various ways. Marriage may lead to a different level of interpersonal interaction on a daily basis and social engagement, which may improve a person’s “cognitive reserve.”
What is Cognitive Reserve?
“Cognitive reserve is an individual’s resilience against the damage that is caused to their brain by dementia,” according to the lead study author Andrew Sommerlad, who is a geriatric psychiatrist and Wellcome Trust Research fellow. What this means it that their brain contains strategies that allow them to withstand the damage, without showing symptoms of dementia.”
Also past research showed that being married tends to result in healthier decision-making, such as healthier eating and increasing exercise, while drinking less alcohol and smoking less, all of which are believed to help in reducing the risk of dementia.
For the higher risk of dementia in widowed individuals as compared to divorced individuals, the researchers hypothesize that this may be because of the fact that bereavement brings greater stress, as compared to divorce. This stress may take a much harder toll on cognitive areas and memory-forming of the brain.
However, the authors said, that preventing dementia is much more complicated than simply walking down the aisle. This study shows an association between dementia risk and marriage. But, understanding how certain specific factors that are related to marital status can affect dementia risk, remains largely unknown.
Further complicating the question, developing dementia could be linked with personality or cognitive traits that make a person less likely to get married. “It may be that their dementia risk plays a part in whether they find a partner many years earlier,” according to the lead author.
More research is also needed to have a better understanding regarding what the widowed and unwed persons can do to reduce their risk of dementia.
“In a society where the isolation of older persons are becoming more common, actions might need to be taken, in order to connect older people back together, to reduce social isolation,” according to the lead author Sommerlad.