Stockholm: The mental engagement of marriage may protect against the brain disease, Alzheimier’s.
People who have a partner or are married in middle age are at half the risk of developing dementia as those who live alone, says a study.
Getting divorced and becoming widowed in mid-life raises the risk three-fold.
The study by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm is one of the first to focus on marital status and the risk of dementia.
Previous research already suggests that social isolation or lack of personal contact carries an increased risk of dementia and mental decline.
An American study last year found significant links between feelings of loneliness and the chances of suffering Alzheimer’s.
In the latest study, researchers, led by Professor Miia Kivipelto, interviewed 2,000 people aged 50 on average and then again 21 years later, drawing conclusions from three quarters of those initially involved.
They found that middle-aged people who live alone have double the risk of dementia compared with those who are married or have a partner.
Those living alone in middle-age and who are widowed or divorced have the highest chances of developing dementia.
They are three times more likely to develop diseases such as Alzheimer’s, as are people who are single during middle-age.
People living with a partner or married in mid-life were less likely than the single, separated or widowed to have dementia in later life.
The experts suggested women overall had less chance of dementia than men, but called for more research into differences between the sexes in a report in the British Medical Journal.
The report said: ‘There is a substantial and independent association between marital status in mid-life and cognitive function later in life.’
The researchers speculate that the stress of becoming widowed may play a part in declining mental functions.
Precisely what the connection is between being alone and Alzheimer’s remains an unanswered question.
But experts suspect that constant social interaction between marriage partners may keep brain cells in better working order.
Other studies have revealed that the risk of dementia can be reduced by exercise, a healthy diet and a ‘rich social network’.
The best evidence is around eating a Mediterranean diet, exercising regularly, and getting your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly.