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Getting married reduces chances of developing dementia, study suggests

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 30/11/2017 Harriet Pavey
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Getting married could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia, a new study has suggested.

Levels of social interaction could explain the finding, experts have said, after the research showed that people who are single or widowed are more likely to develop the disease.

Researchers analysed 15 previous studies which held data on dementia and marital status involving more than 800,000 people across Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

Their study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, found that people who are single throughout their life have a 42 per cent higher risk of dementia compared with married couples.

Those who have been widowed had a 20 per cent higher risk compared with married people, but no increased risk was found among divorcees compared to those who were still married. 

What is dementia?

Dementia is not a disease itself but a collection of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking problem-solving or language. It’s caused when the brain is damaged by diseases such as Alzheimer’s or strokes. 

The researchers, led by experts from University College London, said previous research has shown that married people may have healthier lifestyles, and are more likely to be socially engaged than singletons.

Meanwhile, the effect observed in people who have been widowed could be due to stress that comes with bereavement, they added.

Another possible explanation is that developing dementia could be related to other underlying cognitive and personality traits, said the study. 

Commenting on the study, Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "There is compelling research showing married people generally live longer and enjoy better health, with many different factors likely to be contributing to that link.

"People who are married tend to be financially better off, a factor that is closely interwoven with many aspects of our health.

"Spouses may help to encourage healthy habits, look out for their partner's health and provide important social support.”

She added that social interaction can help to build a mental resilience that allows people to function for longer before showing symptoms of dementia.

“Staying physically, mentally, and socially active are all important aspects of a healthy lifestyle and these are things everyone, regardless of their marital status, can work towards.”

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