older couple

Elderly people who care for a spouse who has dementia are at increased risk of developing dementia themselves, a study finds. The stress of attending to a mentally incapacitated spouse may somehow contribute to the added risk, scientists report in the May Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

sciencenewsPrevious studies have shown that chronic stress leads to increased levels of the hormone cortisol in the body, which can suppress immunity, says study co-author Peter Rabins, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who teamed with researchers at Utah State University in Logan to do this study. “It’s long been thought that this might have adverse outcomes psychologically and physiologically.”

Taking care of a spouse with dementia takes a toll in other ways as well, Rabins says. “Caregivers often complain that they lose their friends,” he says, because they don’t have time to socialize. But the biological mechanisms that might link these challenges to heightened dementia risk remain unclear.

Wired Science: Dementia Caregivers More Likely to Also Get the Disease

Prior research on social life and aging:

Socializing Appears to Delay Memory Problems

Socializing Can Help Elderly Women Stay Sharp

The Effect of Social Engagement on Incident Dementia

To Increase Longevity, Friends Are More Important Than Family