Dementia: Your marital status may determine your risk of cognitive decline, study warns
The causes of dementia remain largely unknown, but research consistently finds a higher incidence of the disease among socially isolated people. This raised more serious questions in the scientific community about what kind of people might be predisposed to such factors. Now a new study has found that being single or divorced in middle age can increase the risk of dementia due to a lack of social activity.
A new Norwegian study has confirmed that staying in a permanent marriage for many years in middle age can reduce the risk of dementia in old age.
The results were obtained from a survey of more than 150,000 people who consented to the analysis of information about their health status.
Different types of marital status were assessed in people over a period of 24 years, and the researchers investigated whether this condition was associated with a diagnosis of dementia.
The researchers were then able to assess the incidence of dementia compared to other health factors such as mental health problems, high blood pressure and obesity.
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Scientists expected that these factors would explain the incidence of dementia, but this did not happen.
However, there was an association between childbearing and a lower incidence of dementia from the data.
It also found that the highest incidence of dementia was among single or divorced people.
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On the other hand, people who were permanently married over a 24-year period had a lower incidence.
According to the data, having children reduces the risk of dementia by 60 percent among unmarried people.
One participant in the study highlighted the widespread belief that having children requires more cognitive activity.
“For example, you have to deal with people and participate in activities that you would otherwise not have to do,” explains Asta Haberg, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
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The researcher added: “What exactly causes dementia remains a mystery.
“This survey shows that marriage and a lower risk of dementia are linked, but we don’t know why.
“One of the theories was that people who are married live healthier lives, and this explains the difference in the risk of various diseases.
“In this survey, we found no evidence of differences in health status between married and unmarried people that could explain the difference in dementia risk.”
Although the study says nothing about the biological factors involved in the development of dementia, it does show that marital status may influence risk.
Vegard Skierbekk of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said: “We know that certain genes increase the risk of dementia, but people with these genes can live into their 90s without experiencing cognitive problems.”
The researcher suggested that marriage can help people become cognitively active and respond better to adversity and stress.
“The partner is the security that provides the buffer,” added Skirbekk.
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