People who have never been married or those whose spouses have died have a higher risk of developing dementia compared to people who are married, researchers found. On the bright side for single people, not being married may not be as big a health risk as it used to be.
The research from the University College London looked at data from 15 previous studies involving over 800,000 people in Europe, North America, Asia and South America. The evidence was compiled, and factors such as age and gender were controlled for, TIME reports. The researchers found that people who had never married had 42% more chances to develop dementia, while those who had lost a spouse to death were 20% more likely, compared to married people.
Other studies showed that married people tend to be healthier than singles, which may partly explain the findings. According to the researchers, married couples may motivate each other to exercise, eat right, maintain social connections and refrain from smoking or drinking – all of which are linked to a lower risk of dementia.
Grieving a deceased spouse can increase stress levels, the researchers add, which may impact the nerves in the brain and therefore impair cognitive abilities. An accompanying editorial to the study by researchers from the National University of Singapore and the Chinese University of Hong Kong add that sexual activity has also been associated with better cognitive functions and that single people may have less sex.
But there’s some good news for unmarried people. When the researchers took a look at recent studies, which included people born after 1927, the increased probabilities for dementia in single people was only 24%, meaning staying unmarried may not be as big a deal as it was before.
Remaining unmarried has become more common, and it may be that single people born in the latter half of the 20th century have fewer unusual cognitive and personality characteristics,
the researchers said.
However, the study doesn’t mean that marriage prevents dementia, the researchers emphasized. It’s important that research on the subject continues in order to find out more about the condition.
The study was published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.