Single people face an increased risk of brain degenerating diseases
In contrast, single people face an increased risk of brain degenerating diseases, like Alzheimer’s, of between 35 and 44 per cent, says a new study.
Reasons include the healthier lifestyles of couples compared to those who were single, and the benefits of everyday social interaction.
Researchers at Loughborough University followed the lifestyles of 6,677 people, aged from 52 to 90, for six years to see if there was any correlation between maintaining close relationships and various conditions.
Within the group 220 developed dementia.
Study leader Professor Eef Hogervorst said: “Studies have 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.
“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.
“We did not find that social isolation increased the risk but that feeling lonely did by 44 per cent.
“We know depression and heart disease are risk factors for dementia. And loneliness had a similar strength of association as the heart disease risk factors.”
Researchers at Loughborough University followed the lifestyles of 6,677 people
Not being married almost doubled the risk for developing dementia
This had, she said, already been confirmed in other studies 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.
“Being lonely can be associated with depression and this has been associated with dementia.”
Other high-risk factors included limited mobility and hypertension.
The Alzheimer’s Society said it was essential to help patients to maintain “meaningful social connections”.
A spokesman also pointed out that dementia was known to start in the brain decades before it was diagnosed and some of the early symptoms may affect people’s ability to socialise.
The study was unable to prove if loneliness caused it or the other way round.
Dementia is known to start in the brain decades before it is diagnosed
However, Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said whether or not loneliness was cause or effect, it was a major factor in the disease.
He added: “If people are not properly supported, dementia can be an incredibly isolating experience.
“It is essential people with it are supported to maintain meaningful social connections and continue living their life as they want.”
Professor Tara Spires-Jones, a dementia expert at Edinburgh University, said: “The science behind a potential link between relationships and reduced dementia risk is fascinating although not fully understood. Humans are social animals, and maintaining close relationships, like marriage, is likely to keep our brains active and healthy.
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“Scientists think that maintaining an active, healthy brain with many connections between brain cells builds up a reserve that protects the brain from disease as we age.”
In the study, 220 developed the condition during the six-year research period.
Of those 40 per cent were men and 60 per cent were women – which was almost directly proportionate to the total number of men (44.5 per cent) and women (55.5 per cent) who took part.
The research was published in the Journals of Gerontology.
In the UK, 820,000 people have dementia which currently has no cure and costs the NHS £26billion a year.