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Love is Good for the Heart and Brain?


Who woulda knew? AARP reports from the International Alzheimer's Conference in Chicago, where research is being highlighted on the effects of being a older and single. While we posted last month on the fact that older single women aren't the sad, old maids that stereotypes often make them out to be, that doesn't mean that not having a partner can't potentially have an effect on your health. In fact, this new research shows that having a partner midlife had a 50 percent lower risk of having dementia later in life. Some more stats:

  • People who were single throughout their lives had double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease
  • People were divorced and stayed divorced from midlife on had triple the risk.
  • People who lost a spouse midlife and stayed single had more than a sixfold risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than their married peers.

What author of the study, Krister Håkansson, asks is a good question: "What is it about being in a couples relationship, whether married or not, that is protective? Is it the cognitive and intellectual stimulation that comes with living in a relationship or is it something related to other things, like social or emotional factors?"
Their guess is that it's a social network of friends and family and lack of isolation, which makes sense considering the fact that people who were lifelong singles were "much better off" than those who were divorced or lost a spouse in midlife. (Lifelong singles are guessed to have a better network of family and friends already established.)
The thing that can be upsetting about these kinds of studies is that it seems as if you almost don't have a choice in what happens to you; you get divorced and don't find another spouse, what can you do then? But rather than seeing this study as some impending doom for dementia, we should see it for what the actual implications really seem to be here: that a strong network of close loved ones is what matters in life.
*Picture from Brand New Images/Getty Images

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