Positive, supportive relationships with children and romantic partners can lower seniors’ risk of developing dementia, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. However, negative relationships that included frequent arguments, criticism, or other annoying behaviors elevated the risk of dementia.
Can Positive Relationships Reduce Dementia Risk?
The study drew its data from 10,055 participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Participants gave interviews every two years from 2004-2012, and researchers gathered details on dementia from self-reports or from information from people who knew participants well. All participants did not have dementia at the start of the study. During the study, 3.4% of participants developed some form of dementia.
The study also included measures of positive and negative social support experiences. The scale ranged from 1-4, with 4 indicating higher levels of either negative or positive support.
Positive support included having understanding, reliable, and communicative relationships with partners, children, and other family members. Negative support included unreliable support as well as critical and annoying behavior from immediate family.
Other Research on Relationships and Dementia
Previous research has also found a link between relationships and dementia. One study linked higher levels of loneliness to dementia. Participants who reported higher levels of loneliness were also more likely to have high levels of cortical amyloids. This is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s. The study looked at subjective loneliness levels, not social isolation or other objective factors, suggesting how seniors feel about their relationships is an important factor in cognitive health.
A 2010 AARP study examined loneliness among people older than 45. The study concluded that 35% of aging adults are lonely. Married participants were less likely to be lonely, while people who had never been married reported higher loneliness scores.
- Better quality relationships associated with reduced dementia risk. (2017, May 2). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-05/uoea-bqr042817.php
- Loneliness among adults: A national survey of adults 45+ [PDF]. (2010, September). Washington, D.C.: American Association of Retired Persons.
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