Marriage may help stave off the risk of dementia with lifelong singletons and widowers at heightened risk of developing the disease.
Levels of social interaction could explain the finding, experts have said, after analysis of 15 studies which held data on dementia and marital status involving 800,000 people from Europe, North and South America, and Asia.
Their study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, concluded that lifelong singletons have a 42 per cent elevated risk of dementia compared with married couples. Those who have been widowed had a 20 per cent increased risk compared with married people, they found.
But no elevated risk was found among divorcees compared with those who were still married. The researchers, led by experts from University College London, said that previous research has shown that married people may adopt healthier lifestyles.
They may also be more likely to be socially engaged than singletons.
Meanwhile, the effect observed in people who have been widowed could be due to stress that comes with bereavement, they added. Another explanation could be that developing dementia could be related to other underlying cognitive or personality traits.
Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “There is compelling research showing married people generally live longer and enjoy better health, with many different factors likely to be contributing to that link. People who are married tend to be financially better off, a factor that is closely interwoven with many aspects of our health.”
Keith Robson, Age Scotland’s Charity Director, said: “We know that loneliness can increase the risk of dementia, so it’s not surprising that people with partners are at lower risk than those who live alone. Although dementia isn’t entirely preventable, a healthy diet and being physically active may reduce your risk.
“In many cases, husbands and wives can encourage each other to live a healthy lifestyle and reduce risk factors such as drinking and smoking. Of course, we have no influence on many risk factors, such as age or genetics.
But whether you’re married, single or widowed, keeping healthy, active and socially connected can make you less likely to develop dementia and other health issues. We’d encourage people of all ages to educate themselves about dementia.”