Marriage is associated with healthier behaviors and lower mortality, and can reduce the risk of dementia due to factors that influence the way of life, according to a recently published scientific review.
It is very important to know thoroughly the causes of the problem. The growing number of people living with dementia makes these issues the current global public health priority, and there is a pressing need to identify modifiable risk factors. Although there are generally more people with dementia, in many developed countries the incidence of the disease has decreased slightly by age, suggesting that there are factors in lifestyle that affect risk, the study authors wrote.
To delve into this issue, researchers from the National University of Singapore and the Chinese University of Hong Kong conducted a systematic review of studies on the association between marital status (single, married or widowed) and the risk of developing dementia.
They analyzed 15 studies with 812,047 participants from Europe, North America, South America and Asia. And they found that, compared to those who are married, single people for life has a 42% higher risk of developing dementia. For their part, widowers would be 20% more likely to develop dementia than married people. No association was found in divorced persons.
Marital status influences
Marital status has the potential to affect the risk of dementia by increasing daily social interaction. This can improve the cognitive reserve and help to have a physically stronger brain to face daily challenges, the scientists wrote.
Why does that happen? Marriage can lead to more frequent social contact, and is opposed to grief or divorce in people who have been married, which can promote the development of dementia through stress.
But according to scientists, being single is associated with adverse behaviors for health and a range of poorer outcomes. Other studies have found lower mortality for married people than among single women, another found that the health of single Americans is worse than that of married people. There is also evidence that being married is associated with better cancer survival; and being left behind is linked to disability in the elderly.
“Our hypothesis is that married people have a lower risk of developing dementia compared to single people and that previously married people have a lower risk than those who have been single for life,” the researchers described.
In conclusion, the authors point out that those who live as a couple benefits from a lower risk of dementia than widows and single people for life, and that this is not taken into account in routine clinical practice. And they believe that the prevention of dementia in single people should focus on education and physical health, and should consider the possible effect of social commitment as a modifiable risk factor.