Hearts & Minds: Study Finds Marriage May Help Ward Off Dementia


New research shows that divorcees are most likely to develop dementia, compared to those who are widowed, cohabiters, or simply never married.


EAST LANSING, Mich — There’s something beautiful about growing old with a loving partner. The level of intimacy two people can reach with one another after decades of sharing their lives together is an unmatched simpatico. Now, a new study conducted at Michigan State University has found another big benefit to getting and staying hitched: married people may be less likely to experience dementia as they age.

Conversely, divorcees were at twice the risk as married individuals to develop dementia. Divorced men showed an even greater predisposition for dementia than divorced women.

The first part of the study analyzed four types of unmarried individuals; divorced / separated, widowed, never married, and cohabiters. Researchers discovered that the divorcees had the highest risk of dementia.

“This research is important because the number of unmarried older adults in the United States continues to grow, as people live longer and their marital histories become more complex,” head researcher Hui Liu says in a media release. “Marital status is an important but overlooked social risk/protective factor for dementia.”

Researchers also analyzed nationally representative data on more than 15,000 individuals collected between 2000 and 2014. All studied respondents were at least 52 years old in the year 2000, and each person had their cognitive functioning measured every two years; either via telephone or in person.

The study noted that differences between economic statuses or resources could partially account for higher dementia rates among divorcees, widowed, or never married respondents, but couldn’t account for higher risk among cohabiters at all. Additionally, general behaviors and health factors, such as exercise or chronic health conditions, seemed to slightly impact risk rates among divorcees and married couples, but didn’t seem to influence other marital statuses at all.

“These findings will be helpful for health policy makers and practitioners who seek to better identify vulnerable populations and to design effective intervention strategies to reduce dementia risk,” Liu says.

The study is published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

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