Married people have a significantly lower chance of developing dementia in later life, new research suggests.
Researchers at University College in London analysed existing data from 15 previously conducted dementia studies with over 800,000 participants in total. Speaking to Medscape.com, lead researcher Dr Andrew Sommerlad set the scene:
“We were aware of the research literature showing that being married is associated with a range of health benefits, and wondered whether the potential health benefits of married life may extend to lower dementia risk.”
The team did indeed find a very significant link: single people had a 42 per cent higher risk of developing dementia than married people. Widows and widowers, meanwhile, had a 20 per cent higher chance. Curiously, they found no difference between married and divorced people in relation to dementia, suggesting that the protective effect of marriage can outlast the marriage itself.
The research team attribute this influence to the healthier choices typically made by married people and to social influences. Dr Sommerlad explained:
“We do not think that it is marriage itself that reduces peoples’ risk for dementia. Our research instead suggests that the possible protective effect is linked to various lifestyle factors that are known to accompany marriage, such as living a generally healthier lifestyle and having more social stimulation as a result of living with a spouse or partner.”
There is a noticeable link, he continued, between poor health in single people and the risk of dementia. Meanwhile, widows and widowers with lower levels of education have a higher risk than bereaved spouses.
“This suggests that unmarried people may be able to reduce their dementia risk by engaging in keeping an active body and mind.”
Estimates suggest that over 48 million worldwide now have dementia of some form or another.
The study was published in the academic Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.