Being Single In Midlife Increases the Alzheimer's Risk

Jul 31, 2008
A new study found that middle-aged people who are single face the increased risk of developing dementia.

Swedish researchers point out that social interaction between partners could be a key to protecting the brain from the illness.

The study conducted at the Karolinska Institute involved 1,449 partnered and non-partnered people who were asked about their relationship status in midlife and then again after 21 years to find if they had developed dementia.

The results showed that people who remained single after divorce were three times more likely to have dementia, while singles, widowed at a young age had six times higher risk. People who were single their whole lives were twice as likely to have risk of dementia.

Overall, 139 of those in a study were diagnosed with some sort of cognitive impairment and 48 of them had Alzheimer's disease.

People who were in relationships in midlife were less likely to have cognitive impairment in comparison to non-partnered ones including those were widowed, single, divorced or separated.

Even after other factors such as weight, physical activity and education were taken into account, the results showed that those with a partner had had a 50 percent lower risk of developing the illness later in life.

Dr Krister Hakansson, a leading author of the study explained that cognitive and intellectual stimulation is known to be protective against dementia. Dr Hakansson added: "Living in a couple means that you are confronted with other ideas, perspectives and needs. You have to compromise, make decisions and solve problems together with someone else, which is more complicated and challenging. It is probably easier to get stuck in your own habits and routines if you live by yourself."

The Alzheimer's Research Trust said the findings were worrying, taking into account the high divorce rates and ageing population in the UK.

The results of the study will be released at the Alzheimer's Association 2008 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago.