A recent paper analyzing data found in fifteen separate studies has found that life-long singles have a 42% higher likelihood of developing dementia than those who are married. Due to the stress of losing a loved one, widowers and widows also face increased risk, with the study showing a 20% higher risk of the disease. There did not appear to be any increased risk for those who are divorced, though researchers admit there wasn’t a large sample represented in the studies.
Researchers believe that the reason married people have a lower risk of dementia is that the trappings of marriage help stave off the health issues that lead to disease. Spouses often encourage each other to eat more healthfully, to smoke and drink less, and to exercise more. Marriage can bring a higher income and higher standard of living than singles have, leading to better health care and resources. Social isolation, depression, and loneliness are also known risk factors of dementia, and are often alleviated by marriage.
Interestingly, the risk factor of never-marrieds falls to only 24% for those born after 1927. This leads researchers to believe that as remaining unmarried becomes more common, “it may be that single people born in the latter half of the 20th century have fewer unusual cognitive and personality characteristics.”
It is important to remember that these findings report correlation, and not necessarily causation. As we can observe in those around us, marriage is not a guaranteed safeguard against developing dementia. Being married is also not something we can always control, making it difficult to prescribe as a preventative measure. Nonetheless, these findings are one more step towards helping us better understand the risk factors that lead to the disease.
TC currently lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest, bellied up to a sun lamp. In addition to writing, she enjoys photography and estate sales, and is the proud mother to an ever-growing collection of cacti.