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You are twice as likely to develop dementia if you are single

Being single can almost double the risk for dementia, a new study has found.

Researchers studied six years of data based on the lifestyles of 6,677 people aged between 52 and 90 to see if there was any correlation between maintaining close relationships and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was led by University College London (UCL) and was a collaboration between UCL, the University of Nottingham and Loughborough University.

They found that men and women who reported being single had a 35%-44% higher risk of dementia.

Which meant that being in a close relationship, not necessarily a marriage, meant the chances of developing the disease were about 60% less.

Loughborough's Professor Eef Hogervorst said the healthier lifestyles of married people could be a key factor in the results.

She said: “It might be because other studies often found that married men on average have healthier lifestyles than single men – such as better diets, less alcohol, less smoking and more and earlier health services visits.

“Another explanation could be that married couples will try to cope with dementia symptoms on their own for longer before health services are involved.

“Single people will need help to cope with their symptoms earlier. Not being married almost doubled the risk for developing dementia.

“On the other hand, having close relationships independently reduced the risk by 60%.  We did not find that social isolation per se increased risk but that feeling lonely did, by 44%.”

Of the 6,677 people involved in the study, 220 developed dementia during the six year research period.

Of those 88 (40%) were men and 132 (60%) were women – which was almost directly proportionate to the total number of men (44.5%) and women (55.5%) who took part.

As well as being single, not having close contacts, loneliness, other high-risk factors prevalent in the group included depression, limited mobility, heart disease and hypertension.

Prof Hogervorst said: “We know that depression and heart disease risk factors are risk factors for dementia.

“And, loneliness had a similar strength of association as the heart disease risk factors.

“This has been mentioned before for other morbidities where loneliness was said to be as bad for health as smoking.

“We are social creatures and reduction of stress through social support may be more important than previously thought.”

The team at Loughborough has developed a number of activities together with people with dementia, including some which can be done at home, to bring people closer to others that matter to share their activities with so they do not feel so lonely.

And the paper suggested that efforts such as these to enhance older peoples’ relationship quality could help to reduce the risk of dementia.

“Being lonely can be associated with depression and this has been associated with dementia,” said Prof Hogervorst.

“As most people with dementia stay at home most of the time, we try to use technology to do activities which include others, such as modified forms of Facebook, cognitive stimulation therapy and exercises in virtual groups.”

The research, Loneliness, Social Integration, and Incident Dementia Over 6 Years: Prospective Findings From the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, was published in the Journals of Gerontology.

ENDS

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 17/152

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Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world to study sports-related subjects in the 2017 QS World University Rankings and top in the country for its student experience in the 2016 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 6th in the Guardian University League Table 2018, 7th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 10th in The UK Complete University Guide 2018. It was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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