According to a paper published last November in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, people who have been single all their lives could have a 42 percent higher risk of developing dementia than those who are married.

The research suggests that just marriage itself is not the key for reducing the risk of dementia. Instead, the research indicated that various lifestyle factors associated with marriage, such a living a healthier lifestyle, being financially better off and being more socially engaged, has protective benefits.

In analyzing the studies, researchers found that people who had been single all their lives and those who were widowed were more likely to develop dementia compared to those who were married at the time of the studies. Further, the increased risk appeared to be similar to other known dementia risks such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Spouses tend to encourage healthy habits, care for their partner's health and provide important social support to each other. This social interaction helps to build a cognitive reserve, a mental resilience that allows people to function longer with Alzheimer's or dementia prior to showing symptoms. The higher risk in single people, researchers suggested, was due to their overall poorer physical condition.

Because the research was based on observational studies, no firm correlations about cause and effect could be drawn. Researchers did comment that being physically and mentally active and having strong social connections are all important aspects of healthy lifestyles, ones that can be practiced by everyone, regardless of marital status.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.