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If Your Spouse Has Dementia, You May Be at Higher Risk Too

A study published in the May 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that adults whose spouses have dementia are 6 times more likely to develop dementia themselves.

Dementia is not a disease, but rather covers a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s. These symptoms include memory loss, agitation, mood swings and changes in personality.

The first of its kind study was conducted by researchers from Utah State University.

The researchers recruited 1,221 couples that had been married for an average of 49 years. None of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia at the start of the study.

The researchers followed the participants for 12 years. During that time, 125 cases of dementia were diagnosed in the husband alone and 70 cases in the wife alone. In 30 couples, both spouses were affected.

After the researchers accounted for outside factors such as genetics and social class, they found that having a husband or wife with Alzheimer’s made an individual six times more likely to develop the disease themselves.

Although this study was not meant to find the cause of the relationship, the researchers noted that the mental and emotional challenges of caring for a spouse likely play a large role. They also noted that spouses have similar lifestyles and are therefore often exposed to similar risk factors.

Genetics play a large role in dementia risk. However, it may be possible to lower your risk by paying attention to lifestyle factors. Here are some small lifestyle changes that may make a big difference:

• Eating a brain-healthy diet that includes foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

• Keeping your mind active by attending social events or solving puzzles.

• Sleeping regularly and restfully

• Learning to relax

• Doing moderate intensity exercises like walking, biking or yoga 3 times a week

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