Married People Less Likely to Develop Dementia Than Divorcees, Widowers, and Those Who Never Married

Marriage has a variety of benefits, but a new study has found that it may also decrease your likelihood of developing dementia as you age. Just one more reason to marry your beau or stay with your bride!

The study, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Series B, was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan. They investigated the incidence of dementia among more than 15,000 participants over the age of 52 who were either married or unmarried. The unmarried participants were split into four groups—never married, widowed, divorced, and cohabitating. Researchers assessed the potential dementia symptoms of each participant by phone every two years for the duration of the 2000-2014 study.

Of the four unmarried groups, divorced people had the highest risk of dementia. In fact, those people who had been divorced were twice as likely as married people to have some form of dementia. However, all unmarried groups had a higher risk than the married group.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Jacob Lund

“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,” says Hui Liu, lead researcher and professor of sociology. “Marital status is an important but overlooked social risk/protective factor for dementia.”

The study also uncovered some interesting data related to the participants’ sex. While dementia is more common in women than in men, the researchers found that divorced and widowed men were more likely to develop dementia than the women of the same categories.

It is possible that the higher incidence of dementia among widowed, divorced, and never married people is partially accounted for by their financial resources. However, these factors do not explain the increased risk of dementia among the cohabiting group. Health factors also did not seem to have a very large impact on the incidence of dementia, only really affecting the divorced and married groups.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Yakobchuk Olena

“These findings will be helpful for health policymakers and practitioners who seek to better identify vulnerable populations and to design effective intervention strategies to reduce dementia risk,” Liu says.

About 5.8 million people in the U.S. alone are suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Studying factors like relationship status may help us better understand what causes these dementias, who is at risk, and how the onset of dementia can be prevented.

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