HEAD: Dementia: Study reveals ‘surprising’ lifestyle factor – how to lower your risk

Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. People with dementia can experience a range of worsening symptoms such as memory loss and impaired judgement. Mounting evidence suggests the decisions people make in their life may influence their risk of developing dementia. One study, published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, found that married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age.

Divorcees are about twice as likely as married people to develop dementia

On the other hand, divorcees are about twice as likely as married people to develop dementia, the study indicated, with divorced men showing a greater disadvantage than divorced women.

In one of the first studies of its kind, Hui Liu, professor of sociology, and colleagues analysed four groups of unmarried individuals: divorced or separated; widowed; never married; and cohabiters.

Among them, the divorced had the highest risk of dementia.

“This research is important because the number of unmarried older adults in the United States continues to grow, as people live longer and their marital histories become more complex,” Liu said.

Lui added: ”Marital status is an important but overlooked social risk/protective factor for dementia.”

Liu and her follow researchers analyzed nationally representative data from the Health and Retirement Study, from 2000 to 2014.

The sample included more than 15,000 respondents ages 52 and older in 2000, measuring their cognitive function every two years, in person or via telephone.

The researchers also found differing economic resources only partly account for higher dementia risk among divorced, widowed and never-married respondents, but couldn’t account for higher risk in cohabiters.

In addition, health-related factors, such as behaviours and chronic conditions, slightly influenced risk among the divorced and married, but didn’t seem to affect other marital statuses.

“These findings will be helpful for health policy makers and practitioners who seek to better identify vulnerable populations and to design effective intervention strategies to reduce dementia risk,” Liu said.

Other ways to reduce the risk

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, risk factors for cardiovascular disease (like high blood pressure and stroke) are also risk factors for dementia, so what is good for a person’s heart is good for their brain.

As the charity explained: “Leading a healthy lifestyle and being physically active on a regular basis will help lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases, and it’s likely you will be lowering your risk of dementia too, particularly vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

For a healthy heart:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control
  • Be active and exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet
  • Drink fewer than 14 units of alcohol per week

To stay healthy, the NHS recommended aiming for at least 150 minutes of exercise every week.

“Being active needn’t mean going to the gym or running a marathon. You are more likely to form healthy habits if you find activities you enjoy,” added Alzheimer’s Research UK. Drinking water may also reduce the risk. Find out how much water a person should drink here. 

Some research has found that identifying and treating high blood pressure in midlife may reduce the risk of dementia, noted the health body.

“If you are concerned about your blood pressure, or haven’t had it checked for a while, you can have it monitored at your doctor’s surgery or at some pharmacies,” it said.

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