Single Status at Middle-Age May Affect Alzheimer's Risk Challenges of living with a partner might protect later cognitive powers
05 july 2009-- Middle-aged people who are widowed or divorced are more likely than their cohabiting counterparts to have cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease in later life, according to a study published online on July 2 in BMJ.
Krister Hakansson, of Vaxjo University in Sweden, and colleagues conducted a study of 1,449 people aged 65 to 79 who had previously been participants in population-based samples investigated in the 1970s and 1980s, and who were reexamined in 1998 for signs of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive impairment.
The researchers found that subjects who were cohabiting at a mean age of 50.4 years were less likely than their single, widowed or separated counterparts to have cognitive impairment at age 65 to 79, and the risk for those who were widowed or divorced at mid-life and follow-up was three times that of married or cohabiting people. For divorced and widowed people, the odds ratio for Alzheimer's disease was 7.67 times that of married or cohabiting people.
"Living in a relationship with a partner might imply cognitive and social challenges that have a protective effect against cognitive impairment later in life, consistent with the brain reserve hypothesis," the authors write. "The specific increased risk for widowed and divorced people compared with single people indicates that other factors are needed to explain parts of the results."