In late July 2008, the International Conference on Alzheimer’s disease (AD) convened in Chicago, IL. Over 5,000 researchers from 60 countries shared the information they had garnered from their studies on AD’s cause, treatment, and prevention. Two intriguing psychological factors were revealed: a person’s relationship status after mid-life and their habits of “ruminating” over personal and professional problems.
Although many married folks will claim that their spouse “drives them crazy,” quite the opposite is true. Researchers revealed that those who were married or lived with a significant other in midlife had a 50% lower risk of dementia as they aged, as compared to single folks. The data for this research came from the Finnish Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging, and Dementia (CAIDE) study, which followed 1,449 participants over 20+ years. Being married at mid-life was associated with the lowest risk of dementia. Comparatively, those who were single for their entire life had double the risk for cognitive decline, those who were married, then divorced and stayed single after midlife had triple the risk, and those who were widowed before midlife, and then stayed single had a six-fold risk of developing AD. These results are quite profound, especially considering the researchers adjusted for many of the health risks associated with cognitive decline, including BMI (Body Mass Index), cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and smoking; and social factors, such as education, gender, and depression.
Consistent social interaction is one way to keep dementia at bay. Being married or living with a partner ensures constant interaction (with a few exceptions!), keeping the brain active and healthy. Even the less pleasant parts of marriage, such as arguing, serve to exercise communication and language skills.
To Ruminate or Not to Ruminate?
Rumination, or repetitive thinking about a particular problem, may not be very Zen-like, but apparently it provides some benefit to brain health. An Israeli study that spanned 30 years assessed cognitive function in over 1,800 men who averaged 82 years of age. It found that men who have the tendency to ruminate over personal or family problems had a 14% prevalence rate for dementia, versus 18- 21% for those who did not ruminate, or forgot. In regard to professional matters, there was a 15% prevalence rate for those who ruminated, and a 19 -24% rate for those who did not. When the categories (subjects) of family and professional were combined, there was a 30-40% decreased risk of dementia in those who ruminated most.
Physical Health Impacts Cognitive Function
Metabolic Syndrome, or Syndrome X, has been shown in a study from Brazil to be highly correlated with increased risk of cognitive decline. Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of health problems, specifically abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and elevated blood sugar, known to increase risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Researchers in Brazil conducted a study with 422 healthy men and women over age 60. They found that about 40% of that group had Metabolic Syndrome, and that those people had lower scores on cognitive testing as compared to the men and women who did not have Metabolic Syndrome. Those with Metabolic Syndrome had more depressive symptoms and lower cognitive, planning, and neuro-functional scores.
By The NEEDS Wellness Team