Recent findings indicated individuals who were single or widowed had increased risk for dementia, compared with their married peers.
“The rising number of people living with dementia makes it the current global public health priority, and there is a pressing need to identify modifiable risk factors,” Andrew Sommerlad, MRCPsych, MSc, of University College London, and colleagues wrote. “Although there are more people with dementia overall, there has been a small decline in the age-specific incidence of dementia in many developed countries over the past two decades suggesting that differential lifetime exposure to risk factors in successive generations affects their dementia risk.”
To assess associations between marital status and risk for dementia, researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 observational studies that explored the age- and sex-adjusted relationship between marital status and dementia. The study cohorts included 812,047 participants.
Lifelong single (relative risk = 1.42; 95% CI, 1.07-1.9) and widowed (RR = 1.2; 95% CI, 1.02-1.41) individuals had increased risk for dementia, compared with their married peers.
Researchers found no association among divorced participants.
Lower education level partially confounded risk for dementia among widowed participants, while poorer physical health increased risk among lifelong single participants.
Studies that clinically examined all participants indicated higher risk for dementia among unmarried participants, compared with studies that used clinical registers to determine dementia diagnoses.
In an accompanying editorial, Christopher P.L.H. Chen, FRCP, of National University Singapore, and Vincent C. T. Mok, MD, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, reflected on the implications of the study findings.
“This work on marriage and dementia also reminds us of how both are culturally and socially determined as well as intertwined. The institution of marriage is undergoing rapid changes with the acceptance of same-sex marriages and alternatives to marriage such as cohabitation,” they wrote. “Hence, although potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia exist, this does not mean that dementia is easily preventable. Therefore, ways of destigmatizing dementia and producing dementia-friendly communities more accepting and embracing of the kinds of disruptions that dementia can produce should progress alongside biomedical and public health programs.” – by Amanda Oldt
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.