Critter Corner: Do Marriage and Children Reduce Your Risk of Dementia? 

Dear Raider, 

I heard somewhere that marriage and children can help lower your risk of dementia. I hope this is true. I’ve been married to my husband for 50 years this year, and we have children, grandchildren, and even a great-grandchild. I’m hoping to stay around for a long time and for my mind to remain sharp so I can spend quality time with them.  

Thanks for your help! 

Mary Dwithkids 


Dear Mary, 

According to a new study published in the Journal of Aging and Health, marriage may lower the risk of developing dementia in old age. In fact, if you have been married continuously for many years in midlife, you have a lower risk of developing dementia in old age.  

“Being married can have an influence on risk factors for dementia,” says Vegard Skirbekk at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH/FHI). 

The researchers looked at different marital statuses of people over a period of 24 years – from the age of 44 until 68 – and investigated whether this status was related to a clinical diagnosis of dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) after the age of 70. The results show that the group that was continuously married throughout the period had the lowest incidence of dementia. The highest incidence was found in divorced and single people. 

The study is not the first to tie marital status to dementia risk, according to researcher Bjorn Heine Strand, a senior scientist with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, in Oslo. “Marriage has been reported to be associated with reduced dementia risk in numerous studies, and our results add to this evidence,” Strand said. 

Children Reduce Risk of Dementia, as Well 

Asta Håberg, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), also found that having children had significance and reduced the risk of dementia by 60 percent among the unmarried people in the study. “Some people have theorized that if you have children, you stay more cognitively engaged. For example, you have to deal with people and participate in activities that you wouldn’t otherwise have to. This stimulates your brain so that it possibly works better. That way you build up a kind of cognitive reserve,” says Håberg. 

There Are Important Caveats to Keep in Mind 

The findings are consistent with past research on marital status and dementia, agreed Claire Sexton, senior director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association. But there are “important caveats,” said Sexton, who was not involved in the study. 

According to Sexton, “it’s not clear whether findings from older generations would apply to young people today. It’s now much more common, for example, for unmarried couples to live together, versus decades ago. And then there’s the bigger picture. Dementia is complicated and influenced by many factors — including age, genetics, lifestyle habits, physical health and environment. If marital status matters, it would be only one of the variables.” 

For now, no matter what relationship you are in, Sexton pointed to the importance of staying socially connected, which may be part of the story when it comes to marital status and dementia. “Staying socially engaged may support cognitive health,” she said. “The Alzheimer’s Association recommends engaging in social activities that are meaningful to you, and that you share those activities with friends and family.” 

Hope you and your family spend lots of fun, quality time together! 


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.