A new study has found that married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age.

The study, by researchers at Michigan State University, also found that divorcees are about twice as likely as married people to develop dementia, with divorced men showing a greater disadvantage than divorced women.

For the study, a research team led by Dr. Hui Liu, a professor of sociology, analyzed four groups of unmarried individuals: divorced or separated; widowed; never married; and cohabiters.

The researchers analyzed nationally representative data from the Health and Retirement Study, from 2000 to 2014. The sample included more than 15,000 people ages 52 and older in 2000, measuring their cognitive function every two years, in person or via telephone.

The analysis revealed that the divorced had the highest risk of dementia.

“This research is important because the number of unmarried older adults in the United States continues to grow, as people live longer and their marital histories become more complex,” Liu said. “Marital status is an important, but overlooked, social risk/protective factor for dementia.”

The researchers also found differing economic resources only partly accounted for higher dementia risk among divorced, widowed, and never-married people, but couldn’t account for higher risk in cohabiters.

In addition, health-related factors, such as behaviors and chronic conditions, slightly influenced risk among the divorced and married, but didn’t seem to affect other marital statuses, the researchers said.

“These findings will be helpful for health policy makers and practitioners who seek to better identify vulnerable populations and to design effective intervention strategies to reduce dementia risk,” Liu said.

The study was published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

Source: Michigan State University