By Karen Kaplan and Los Angeles Times By Karen Kaplan and Los Angeles Times December 2 at 10:00 AM
Your spouse can drive you crazy sometimes, but new research suggests that your marriage can keep you from losing your mind.
The risk of dementia was significantly lower for married people than for adults who remained single. their entire lives, according to a report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. Husbands and wives were also better off than widowers and widowers, the researchers found.
The badysis included more than 800,000 people who participated in 15 previously published studies. Most of the study volunteers came from Sweden, and the rest lived elsewhere in Europe, the United States, Asia or Brazil. Almost 30,000 of them had some kind of dementia.
The authors of the new report said they had several reasons to suspect that the marriage could keep the brain in good working order.
Married people spend more time in someone else's company, and social commitment is badociated with a lower risk of dementia. Perhaps years of interaction with a husband or wife create a "cognitive reserve" that makes the brain more resistant to future harm, the researchers wrote.
Married people also tend to be healthier, perhaps because their spouses annoy them to eat their vegetables, stop smoking and take their blood pressure medications. Better physical health could translate into better brain health by reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, the researchers surmised.
It seems that they were learning something.
Nine of the studies compared the risk of dementia in a married person and those whose spouse had died. In these studies, the risk of dementia was between 2 and 41 percent higher for widows and widowers than for people whose spouses were still living. In general, the additional risk badociated with the widow was 20 percent.
In addition, six of the studies compared the risk of dementia in married people and in people who are single for life. Singles constantly faced a greater risk, ranging from 7 to 90 percent more. In general, the additional risk for those who had never been married was 42 percent.
To put those figures in perspective, the researchers observed that sedentary people are 40 percent more likely to develop dementia than people who are physically active. Smokers and people with high blood pressure are about 60 percent more likely to develop dementia than people who do not smoke or do not have hypertension.
Finally, seven of the studies compared the risk of dementia in those who were married and in those who were divorced. There were no differences between the two groups.
Researchers suspect that being a widow is worse than being divorced because grief causes stress that makes it easier for dementia to take hold. Studies have found that being widowed is more stressful than divorcing, they said.
None of this means that people should marry simply to avoid dementia. But understanding why marriage is badociated with better cognitive health could lead to the development of "social interventions" that would be available to all, the authors concluded.
That will not be easy, according to an editorial that accompanied the study.
"The challenge remains how these observations can be translated into effective means to prevent dementia," warns the editorial. "Although there are potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia, that does not mean that dementia is easily preventable."
– Los Angeles Times