What is dementia?
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The causes of dementia remain largely unknown, but studies have consistently found a higher incidence of the disease among the socially isolated. This has prompted bigger questions among the scientific community about which individuals may be predisposed to such factors. Now the findings of a new study, have suggested that being single or divorced in mid-life could hike the risk of dementia due to a lack of social engagement.
A new Norwegian study has confirmed that staying married continuously married for many years in mid-life could lower the risk of dementia in old age.
The findings emerged from a survey of more than 150,000 people who gave consent to have their health information analysed.
Different types of marital status were assessed in people over a period of 24 years, with researchers probing whether this status was linked to a dementia diagnosis.
Researchers were thereafter able to assess the incidence of dementia against other health factors, like mental health issues, high blood pressure and obesity.
Scientists expected these factors to provide an explanation for the incidence of dementia, but they did not.
What did emerge from the data, however, was a link between having children and a lower incidence of dementia.
It also transpired that the highest incidence of dementia was among people who were single or divorced.
People who were continuously married throughout the 24-year period, on the other hand, had a lower incidence of the disease.
According to the data, having children lowered the risk of dementia by 60 percent among unmarried people.
One of the researchers in the study highlighted a widely held belief that having children requires more cognitive engagement.
“For example, you have to deal with people and participate in activities that you wouldn’t otherwise have to,” explained Asta Haberg, professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
The researcher added: “Exactly what causes dementia is a mystery.
“This survey indicates that being marries and a lower risk of dementia are linked, but we don’t know why.
“One theory has been that people who are married live healthier lives and that this explains differences in the risk of various diseases.
“In this survey, we found no support for health differences between married and unmarried people that would explain the difference in dementia risk.”
Although the study shows nothing about the biological factors implicated in the development of dementia, it shows that marital status can affect the risk.
Vegard Skirbekk, from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said: “We know that certain genes increase the risk of dementia, but people with these genes can still live to be 90 years old without experiencing cognitive problems.”
The researcher suggested that being married may help individuals become cognitively active and respond better to adversity and stress.
“The partner represents a security that provides a buffer,” added Skirbekk.
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