Widowhood Associated With Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age as it mainly affects people over the age of 65. After 65, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles approximately every 5 years. A new study suggests that widowhood may increase the risk of a type of cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s by up to three times.
Participants in the study included 257 adults with an average age of 73.5 who took part in the Harvard Aging Brain Study for three years. All of them were cognitively unimpaired at the beginning of the study. 56.4% of the participants were married, 30% were unmarried, and 13.6% were widowed.
Cognitive performance was assessed at baseline, year 1, year 2, and year 3 using the Preclinical Alzheimer Cognitive Composite. Hippocampal volume and beta-amyloid levels were measured at baseline. High levels of beta-amyloid are a key marker for Alzheimer’s.
The researchers found that widowed participants showed worsening cognitive performance compared to married and unmarried participants. Widowed participants who had higher baseline beta-amyloid levels showed cognitive decline that was three times greater than married participants with higher baseline beta-amyloid levels.
The study was conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. It was published on February 26, 2020 in the journal Geriatrics.