Although being married may test our sanity, living into old age with partners it seems lowers the risk of dementia!
A study covering more than 800,000 people found that walking through life alone increased the chances of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia by 40 percent.
Being widowed after extended co-habitation also took a toll, boosting the odds of mental slippage by about 20pc.
“There were fairly well-established health benefits of marriage, so we did expect there to be a higher risk in unmarried people,” says psychiatrist and research fellow at University College London Andrew Sommerlad.
“But we were surprised by the strength of our findings.”
Interestingly, elderly people who had divorced were no more likely to suffer from dementia that married couples.
Across the different categories, there was also no detectable difference between men and women in the rates of mental decline.
To explore the links between marriage and dementia, Sommerlad and colleagues reviewed data from 15 earlier studies covering 812,000 people from a dozen countries.
The vast majority were from Sweden, but there were enough from other nations, including France, Germany, China, Japan, the US and Brazil, to confirm surprisingly little variation across cultures.
But you may ask: why?
Because the study was observational rather than based on a controlled experiment — something scientists can do with rats or mice but not humans — no clear conclusions could be drawn as to cause and effect.
Still, the evidence suggests at least three mutually compatible explanations.
“We don’t think it is marriage itself which reduces the risk, but rather the lifestyle factors that accompany living together with a partner,” says Sommerlad.
“These include a more healthy lifestyle like taking better care of physical health, diet, exercise, but also the social stimulation that comes with having a partner to talk to.”
Earlier research has shown that people who live alone die younger, succumb more quickly when they get cancer, and are generally in poorer health.
But the “dementia gap” between married folk and singletons is even wider than the gap in mortality, suggesting that living with someone has direct benefits for the brain too.
A second factor may be the extreme stress that comes with losing a life-long partner, which measurably impacts neurons in the hippocampus, the main locus of memory, learning and emotion.
“This theory could explain the increased dementia risk for widowed, but not divorced, people,” say researchers.
So the next time you and your partner drive each other crazy, just think you are actually keeping your insanity memorable!