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Published on: October 29, 2017
by Paul Gallagher for iNews:
Being single can almost double the risk for dementia, according to a new study. Researchers at Loughborough University studied six years of data based on the lifestyles of 6,677 people aged between 52 and 90 to see if there was any correlation between maintaining close relationships and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Men and women who reported being single had a 35 per cent to 44 per cent risk of dementia, they found. It meant that being in a close relationship, not necessarily a marriage, meant the chances of developing the disease were about 60 per cent less.
Study lead author Professor Eef Hogervorst said the healthier lifestyles of married people could be a key factor in the results. “It might be because other studies often found that married men on average have healthier lifestyles than single men – such as better diets, less alcohol, less smoking and more and earlier health services visits,” she said. “Another explanation could be that married couples will try to cope with dementia symptoms on their own for longer before health services are involved. Single people will need help to cope with their symptoms earlier. Not being married almost doubled the risk for developing dementia.”
Of the people used in the study, 220 developed dementia during the research period. Of those 88 (40 per cent) were men and 132 (60 per cent) were women – which was almost directly proportionate to the total number of men (44.5 per cent) and women (55.5 per cent) who took part. As well as being single, not having close contacts, loneliness, other high-risk factors prevalent in the group included depression, limited mobility, heart disease and hypertension.
As bad as smoking
Professor Hogervorst said: “We know that depression and heart disease risk factors are risk factors for dementia. And, loneliness had a similar strength of association as the heart disease risk factors. This has been mentioned before for other morbidities where loneliness was said to be as bad for health as smoking. We are social creatures and reduction of stress through social support may be more important than previously thought.”
The study, published in the Journals of Gerontology, suggested that efforts to enhance older peoples’ relationship quality could help to reduce the risk of dementia.Professor Tara Spires-Jones, a dementia expert at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The science behind this potential link between relationships and reduced dementia risk is fascinating although not fully understood. “Humans are social animals, and maintaining close relationships like marriage is likely to keep our brains active and healthy. Scientists think that maintaining an active, healthy brain with many connections between brain cells builds up a ‘reserve’ that protects the brain from disease as we age.”
However, Professor Robert Howard, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at University College London, said: “The trouble with this study is that the short follow up period makes it impossible to disentangle cause from effect. We recognise that there is often a long prodrome (early symptom) before the diagnosis of dementia is made – sometimes lasting for 10 or more years – during which mood and anxiety changes, minor cognitive changes and a shrinking of activities (including social networks) is recognised.”
Alzheimer’s Society director of research Dr Doug Brown said: “We know that loneliness is a growing concern for our ageing population and sadly, dementia and loneliness often come hand in hand. This study suggests that unmarried people, and people who feel lonely, have a slightly higher risk of developing dementia. Although the report suggests the risk almost doubles for people who are unmarried, this amounts to about 1 extra diagnosis in each 100 unmarried people. There are many possible reasons for the link, including that partners might provide extra support and encourage a healthy lifestyle. “Unlike some previous studies, this research did not find a link between the amount of social contact someone has and their risk of dementia. While we work to understand more about relationships and dementia, there are other things we know can reduce your risk of dementia, for example eating healthily, and avoiding smoking and drinking.”
Photo: Photo: Peter Rhys Williams
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