Researchers 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. They found that men and women who reported being single had a 35%-44% higher risk of dementia. This meant that being in a close relationship, not necessarily a marriage, meant the chances of developing the disease were about 60% less.
Of the 6,677 people used in the study, 220 developed dementia during the six year research period. Of those 88 (40%) were men and 132 (60%) were women – which was almost directly proportionate to the total number of men (44.5%) and women (55.5%) 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.
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.
“If people are not properly supported, dementia can be an incredibly isolating experience. It is essential people with dementia are supported to maintain meaningful social connections and continue living their life as they want.”
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Understanding risk factors for dementia – Alzheimer’s Society