Social life is important for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as many research studies have reported. A more recent study pinpointed something even more specific – that patients who are married or living with a partner at midlife have a much lower risk of developing dementia later in life. The research was conducted by Swedish researchers on more than 2000 Finnish adults.
Furthermore, the increase in risk seems to be dependent on the type of singlehood. The researchers reported that:
- People who were single during their entire adult life were two more likely to develop some form of dementia compared to married or partnered people of similar age.
- People who were married but were divorced at middle age have a three-fold increase in risk.
- Those who were windowed or suffered through the death of a partner have an even higher risk for Alzheimer’s – almost 6 times higher than their married counterparts.
According to author Krister Håkansson of the well-known Karolinska Institute in Sweden “This suggests two influencing factors — social and intellectual stimulation and trauma. In practice, it shows how important it is to put resources into helping people who have undergone a crisis. If our interpretation holds, such an intervention strategy could also be profitable for society considering the costs for dementia care.”
So what does marriage and partnership have to do with cognitive decline?
Researchers believe that partnership and marriage provide social as well as intellectual stimulation that keep the brain functioning even in old age. The next step is to look into the effect of other types of relationships (children, grandchildren peer support groups) and the quality of the relationships (happy or not happy):
Previous studies have shown that an active social life help keep the mind and the memory sharp late in life. A study by Harvard researchers revealed that those who have the most social interaction within their social circle, be it with friends or family showed the slowest rate of memory decline.
These results give some important insights on currents standard of care for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. In addition, it gives people who are approaching the middle age a strategy to counteract the cognitive decline that comes with age.