Married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age, according to new research.
On the other hand, divorcees are about twice as likely as married people to develop dementia, the study indicates, with divorced men showing a greater disadvantage than divorced women.
The researchers analyzed four groups of unmarried individuals: divorced or separated, widowed, never married, and cohabiters. Among them, the divorced had the highest risk of dementia.
The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, comes at a time when 5.8 million people in the US are living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, costing $290 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s a serious public health concern, Liu says.
“This research is important because the number of unmarried older adults in the United States continues to grow, as people live longer and their marital histories become more complex,” Liu says. “Marital status is an important but overlooked social risk/protective factor for dementia.”
Liu and her fellow researchers analyzed nationally representative data from the Health and Retirement Study, from 2000 to 2014. The sample included more than 15,000 respondents ages 52 and older in 2000, measuring their cognitive function every two years, in person or via telephone.
The researchers also found differing economic resources only partly account for higher dementia risk among divorced, widowed, and never-married respondents, but couldn’t account for higher risk in cohabiters. In addition, health-related factors, such as behaviors and chronic conditions, slightly influenced risk among the divorced and married, but didn’t seem to affect other marital statuses.
“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,” Liu says.
Funding for the work came from the National Institute on Aging. Co-researchers on the study are from Michigan State, Texas Tech University, and the University of Michigan.
Source: Michigan State University