It seems there’s more to marriage than simply living happily ever after with your spouse.
A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry has discovered that being single for the rest of your life could increase your risk of developing dementia by 42 per cent in comparison to married couples.
People who have been widowed are also at a greater risk, with an increased chance of 20 per cent.
The researchers from University College London examined the findings from 15 separate studies, all of which explored the correlation between dementia risk and marital status. By combining the results from the 15 studies, the researchers were able to analyse data from over 800,000 people worldwide.
According to Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, there are many reasons why being married can lead to a number of health benefits.
“People who are married tend to be financially better off, a factor that is closely interwoven with many aspects of our health.
“Spouses may help to encourage healthy habits, look out for their partner’s health and provide important social support.”
Dr Andrew Sommerlad, a psychiatrist at UCL and one of the study's researchers, explained how leading a healthier lifestyle can have a direct impact on your mental health.
“One thing that happens when one is developing dementia is the accumulation of damage within the brain,” Dr Sommerlad told The Independent.
“We think that this can be reduced by maintaining your general health by following a healthy diet, doing exercise and treating medical problems like diabetes.
“We also think it’s possible to develop brain capacity, which is called cognitive reserve, to allow you to withstand damage within the brain for longer. You might be able to do that by having more of an education and maintaining an active mental and social life.”
The companionship of marriage and the care that partners provide for one another could therefore be contributing factors towards reducing your risk of mental illness later in life.
The publication of the study coincides with the launch of the Alzheimer’s Research UK Christmas campaign, The Santa Forgot campaign. The campaign, which is being backed by Stephen Fry, is trying to raise funds and awareness for dementia research.