Being married can help a person ward off dementia, a new study suggests. People who are single or widowed have a higher chance of developing the mental affliction.

A new review by researchers from University College London, published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, looked at evidence from 15 previously published studies that involved over 800,000 people from Asia, North and South America, and Europe.

The study has found that people who had never married had a 42 percent increased chance of developing dementia as compared to married people. The research team also discovered that widows and widowers had a 20 percent more chance of getting dementia than those who were married.

Link Between Marriage And Lower Risk Of Dementia

The relationship between marriage and dementia risk is, however, not causal, according to the researchers.

"We don't think that it is marriage itself or wearing a wedding ring which reduces people's risk of dementia," said Andrew Sommerlad, lead author of the paper. “Instead, our research suggests that the possible protective effect is linked to various lifestyle factors which are known to accompany marriage, such as living a generally healthier lifestyle and having more social stimulation as a result of living with a spouse or partner."

Earlier studies have shown that married people tend to be healthier than those who do not have a partner and this can explain part of the finding, the research team said. Married couples may motivate each other drink or smoke less, maintain social ties, eat healthily, and exercise. All these factors are associated with lower risk for dementia.

The death of a spouse and the consequent grieving can also increase stress levels that can impair cognitive abilities by impacting the nerve signaling in the brain. A research team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the National University of Singapore has authored an accompanying editorial, which pointed out that sexual activity is also linked to a better cognitive functioning and widowed or unmarried people may have less sex.

Staying Socially Active

Though the study suggests that cohabiting or married people have a decreased chance of developing dementia, it does not imply that getting married or having a partner will lower the risk of developing dementia, according to Keith Fargo, Alzheimer’s Association's director.

Dr. Bryan Woodruff, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, added that if social engagement is one of the positive and protective effects of being married, as the study identified, then single people should make an effort to avoid social isolation.

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