50 years of marriage seems like a huge task, and I often wonder how couples stay married for that long. Well, besides love (obviously) I got my answer in a report.
After a meta-analysis (the best type of scientific study) to determine the link between marriage and dementia, researchers concluded that people who stay married are at a lesser risk of developing dementia.
The study on marriage and dementia
Dr Andrew Sommerlad, a psychiatrist and the lead author of the study conducted this meta-analysis with his colleagues. It is known that marriage has its health benefits. The idea was to find out the relationship between marriage and dementia – do single people suffer more from dementia? How susceptible are widowers compared to married people of the same age? What about those who have divorced?
The team selected 15 studies that had previously tried to study the relationship. These covered over 812,000 participants, principally for Europe, but with representations from countries from all over the world. They studied the prevalence of dementia in singles including divorced or widowed, and married people. For the study, even people who were in a committed unmarried relationship, irrespective of gender heterogeneity were considered as married. The results were not unexpected but were surprising, to say the least.
Lifelong single people were 42% more likely to develop dementia than their married counterparts. Widowers were 20% more likely to develop the condition. Due to an underrepresentation of divorced couples, the difference was not stark. That said, there was a definite difference in the risk of developing the condition between those divorced and those who had lost a spouse.
A reason why marriage slows down dementia
Marriage has definite advantages when it comes to leading a healthy life.
The analysis could not study the cause-effect relationship between the two. The researchers, however, feel that there are three main reasons why this must be happening.
1# Married couples look out for each other
According to the experts, married people motivate each other to do better in life. This begins with eating healthy and exercising and transcends to having healthy habits. I believe that caring for someone also decelerates the processes that lead to dementia. And why not, there is someone to talk to, and that keeps the brain engaged.
This is in line with the earlier findings where single people had a lower life expectancy, are in generally poorer health and may succumb to diseases like cancer faster.
2# Stress of losing someone accelerates dementia
This is a conjecture but the stress of losing a spouse may lead to a person developing dementia faster. This might be the reason that there is a difference between the risks for widowers and divorced as the stress of getting divorced might not be as great as that of losing a spouse.
3# Lifelong singles may have other reasons for developing dementia
And this is a good news for those who have not yet been married. The studies cover most of the 20th century. In the first half of the century, marriages were a norm, and most of the people who were unmarried might have had some cognitive impairments, to begin with. Slowly, as staying single became a norm, the risk of developing dementia fell sharply.
Additional factors like sex also play an important part in protecting married people from developing dementia.
How to reduce your chances of getting dementia.
So, to sum it up, to reduce the risk of developing dementia, you need to do these 5 things:
- Stay healthy. Eat well, exercise, and have conversations. Arguments and debates count as well, but not fights.
- Have a healthy sex life. It will slow down cognitive impairment, reducing your risk of dementia.
- Seek companionship. Marriage is a decision, but staying alone is not the best way to beat dementia.
- Have a support system. Support systems work a bit like marriages, so as long as you have someone to take care of you, motivate you to do good, and keep your mood upbeat, you should be good. That said, it is not a substitute for companionship.
- Reduce stress. Stress adds on to the deceleration process. So be careful what you are stressing about!
Mums and dads, the pioneer generation is a hope for us, at 90, if they can stay happily married, we can do it too, right?
Also, read: She was told she would never get pregnant. She just delivered a baby!