Couples who take the “in sickness and in health” vow can look forward to many more healthy days than their unwedded peers, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal last July. The research showed that those living with a partner when they were 50 years old were less likely to be afflicted by heart conditions or mental decline later in life. On the other hand, those without partners were three times more likely to suffer from age-related ailments two decades later.
Dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, usually affects people over 65, causing confusion, memory loss, and mood swings. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe and can lead to emotional outbursts and social withdrawal. More than 26.6 million people suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in 2006, and that number is expected to more than double in the next decade as the population ages. With slow advances in medicine to halt the disease, discovering the patterns in what causes Alzheimer’s is critical to prevention and knowledge.
Living and social conditions have long been explored as factors in the development of dementia. Those with an advanced education, hobbies, and healthy social lives were less likely to suffer from mental decline. Keeping the brain active is a key factor in holding off cognitive deterioration. In this sense, marriage could be providing the healthy mental stimulation aging minds need to stay fit by providing much-needed company.
Conversely, divorce and spouse death has the opposite effect on health. Those who experienced these events not only suffered from depression initially, but also were 20 percent more likely to develop heart disease, cancer, or diabetes decades later, compared to those still in a relationship, according to a study in last year’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Even individuals who remarried later were more at risk for developing chronic conditions than those who had never been divorced or widowed.
Until the next medical breakthrough for Alzheimer’s treatment arrives, preventing mental deterioration is the best strategy. Married couples can take solace in the fact that thanks to each other’s good company and devotion, they can look forward to many more healthy days together.
This post was contributed by Emily Thomas, who writes about the on line universities. She welcomes your feedback at Emily.Thomas31@ yahoo.com