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Being Married May Protect Against Dementia, Finds Large Study

Loneliness appears to increase the risk of cognitive decline in later life.

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Jack Dunhill

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Jack Dunhill

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

Jack is a Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer for IFLScience, with a degree in Medical Genetics specializing in Immunology.

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

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Humans may need companionship for a long life. Image Credit: Rocketclips, Inc/Shutterstock.com

A new study has found that married people have a lower risk of dementia and cognitive impairment when compared to single or divorced people, backing up significant other research on the benefits of companionship.  

Looking at a large sample of older adults, the researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) identified a possible protective factor in being married in older life, while those that were single had a significantly increased risk of developing the neurodevelopmental disease. 

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“There's a correlation between being married in midlife and a lower risk of dementia as an elderly person. Our data also shows that divorced people account for a significant proportion of dementia cases,” the first author of the study, Vegard Skirbekk, said in a statement

To look further into the associations between marriage and cognitive health in older people, the researchers took a sample of 8,706 adults between the ages of 44-68 and followed them as they aged beyond 70. The goal was to identify how many of them were considered isolated (single or divorced) and if there was a link to those that developed dementia after 70 years old. 

Previous studies have identified that social isolation is a strong risk factor for dementia, particularly in men and those without children. However, this study involved both men and women, as well as people both with and without children. 

The results showed that 11.6 percent of the sample developed dementia, and 35.3 percent developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Of these people, the lowest incidence of dementia was in those that were continuously married, and the highest was in those that were unmarried, followed by divorced, and then intermittently divorced. When the researchers adjusted the numbers to see what dementia cases would look like if everyone had the same risk as the married group, their calculations showed a 6 percent reduction in cases. 

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Why is this happening? The research still can’t reveal whether it is part of the companionship, the likelihood of having children, or another potentially protective feature that comes with continuous marriage. It could also be a variety of other factors, including obesity, stress from divorce, smoking, and inactivity. 

Regardless, it appears that unmarried and divorced people may account for a large number of dementia cases and that reducing social isolation could have a huge impact in improving old-age quality of life. 

The findings were published in the Journal of Aging and Health.


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  • dementia,

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  • marriage,

  • divorce,

  • Alzheimer's

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