A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found that older married adults whose spouse has dementia are at a significantly higher risk for developing dementia themselves.
Informal caregiving for a spouse is a natural marital obligation, but dementia caregivers have been shown to provide more assistance, and to report more personal sacrifices and stress than those who care for the physically-impaired elderly without dementia. While there are many published studies showing that dementia caregivers are at higher risk for health problems and depression, this is the first study to have examined risk for dementia in the caregiver.
The researchers, led by Dr. Maria Norton of Utah State University, studied 1,221 married couples aged 65 and older without dementia at onset. During this time, 125 cases of dementia only in the husband were diagnosed, 70 only in the wife, and 30 where both spouses were diagnosed (60 people).
The results showed that incident dementia was significantly associated with older age and having a spouse with dementia. Specifically, participants with a spouse who developed dementia were at a six times increased risk of developing dementia.
"Future studies are needed to determine how much of this association is due to caregiver stress compared to a shared environment," said Norton. "Given the significant public health concern of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, and the upcoming shift in population age composition, continued research into the causes of dementia is urgent."
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Source: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society