Divorcees are TWICE as likely to be struck down with dementia compared to people who are married, study claims
- Scientists analysed the cognitive function of around 15,000 people
- Divorcees, particularly men, were more likely to develop dementia
- Experts blame ‘differing economic resources’ and ‘health-related behaviours’
Divorcees may be twice as likely to develop dementia, research suggests.
Scientists from Michigan State University looked at the cognitive function of more than 15,000 people with varying marital statuses.
They found divorcees, particularly men, were more likely to develop the memory-robbing disorder over 14 years than their married counterparts.
The scientists believe ‘differing economic resources’ and ‘health-related behaviours’ may be partially to blame. A low income and loneliness are increasingly being linked to dementia.
The social support that comes with marriage, as well as dodging the emotional and financial stress of divorce, has also been linked with better overall health.
Divorcees may be twice as likely to develop dementia, research suggests (stock)
‘This research is important because the number of unmarried older adults in the US continues to grow, as people live longer and their marital histories become more complex,’ lead author Dr Hui Liu said.
‘Marital status is an important but overlooked social risk/protective factor for dementia.’
Dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK and 5.7 million in the US, statistics show.
Divorce is also common, with between 40 and 50 per cent of married couples in the US calling it quits, according to the American Psychological Association.
And in the UK, the Office for National Statistics predicts 42 per cent of marriages that occurred in 2012 will end in divorce.
Separations have been linked to health concerns before. To uncover how they affect the brain, the researchers looked at the 15,379 participants of the Health and Retirement Study, which was carried out between 2000 and 2014.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK
The participants, aged 52 or over at the start, were divided into groups – married, divorced or separated, widowed, never married and cohabiters.
Cognitive function was measured every two years either in person or over the phone.
Results revealed all the unmarried participants were more likely to develop dementia over the study’s 14 years than their wedded counterparts.
Divorced men were particularly at risk. This is despite the number of women with dementia outnumbering men 2:1 around the world, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
The researchers claim ‘differing economic resources’ partially account for the higher dementia risk among the divorced, widowed and never-married participants.
However, these factors do not explain the higher risk among cohabiters, they added.
‘Health-related behaviours’ slightly influenced the dementia risk of the divorced and married participants, but did not seem to affect the other marital statuses.
Experts generally believe ‘what is good for the heart is good for the brain’.
One study, by Emory University, found married people with heart disease are up to 52 per cent less likely to die of the condition than singletons.
The scientists put this down to increased companionship, avoiding the stress of divorce and spouses nagging each other to be healthy.
And a team from Tilburg University in the Netherlands found being in a happy marriage reduces the risk of an early death.
This is thought to be due to husbands and wives being more motivated to lead an active lifestyle. Sedentary behaviours are increasingly being linked to dementia.
Whatever the reason, the Michigan researchers hope their study will help health officials ‘identify vulnerable populations’.
‘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,’ Dr Liu said.