What Divorce Does to Your Dementia Risk
As if the breakdown of a marriage wasn’t stressful enough, now comes research showing that getting divorced also increases your risk of developing dementia. A new study out of Michigan State University found that people who are divorced are twice as likely as their married counterparts to experience the cognitive dysfunction associated with dementia. And those at highest risk? Divorced men.
Published in The Journals of Gerontology, the study tracked more than 15,000 people aged 52 and over who weren’t hitched. They fell into four groups—never married, living together but not married, widowed, and divorced or separated. The Michigan State researchers assessed their cognitive function every 2 years and found that all of the unmarried groups had a significantly higher chance of getting dementia than married people, and it was the divorced group that suffered the most.
This study makes it clear that marital conflict is bad for your brain.
Divorce as a Risk Factor for Dementia
Divorce or separation should be viewed as a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of the condition. Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.8 million Americans, and it is the 6th leading cause of death in the nation. And the numbers keep rising.
Loneliness may be a contributing factor. Being separated from a spouse can increase a sense of loneliness, which can have a major impact on mental well-being. Unfortunately, one-third of seniors between the ages of 50 and 80 say they feel a lack of companionship, and 25 percent of them feel socially isolated, according to a 2018 University of Michigan poll. For seniors, living alone was associated with feelings of loneliness, with 41% of solo dwellers reporting feeling isolated.
The loneliest among us experience cognitive decline 20 percent faster than people who are connected to others, and loneliness has been associated with depression, social anxiety, addictions, even hoarding.
Saving a Troubled Marriage
Considering these new findings, if your marriage is on the rocks, you may want to make a concerted effort to rekindle your relationship. This means you need to stop blaming your partner for marital problems and start looking for the underlying reasons why your relationship isn’t working. There are a number of brain health issues that can threaten a marriage.
1. Mental Health Issues
If you or your partner develop anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or adult ADD/ADHD, it can make it hard to connect in a meaningful way as a couple. People who struggle with focus and concentration may find it hard to follow through with plans and may space out on your anniversary or birthday. Likewise, people who are feeling depressed may isolate themselves. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you, it’s just that their brain isn’t functioning optimally.
Solution: Getting an accurate diagnosis and a targeted treatment plan can help you (or your partner) get back to feeling like yourself again.
2. Head Trauma
If you or your loved one falls off a ladder, gets whiplash from a car accident, or flies head-first off a bike, it can have devastating consequences for your mental health…and your marriage. Head injuries increase the risk of anxiety, depression, ADHD, addictions, psychosis, suicide, and more—all of which can ruin your marriage. Many people who experience a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI) don’t experience these mental health problems until months or even years after an incident, so they don’t see the connection.
Solution: Detecting past head trauma with brain SPECT imaging can be the first step to healing the brain and mending a broken relationship.
3. Neurohormone Issues
Many marriages disintegrate due to hormonal imbalances. Hormones are chemical messengers produced in the body that control and regulate the activity of certain cells or organs. Neurohormones—such as thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone—have an important impact on the brain. When they’re healthy, you tend to feel young and energetic. When they’re out of balance, you can feel tired, cranky, moody, or anxious. This can sabotage a formerly happy union.
Solution: Check your hormone levels and consider replacement therapy to optimize your levels.
4. Exposure to Toxins
Being exposed to toxins can damage the brain and change your (or your spouse’s) personality. One couple was going to marital therapy and was on the brink of divorce because, over the years, the husband had turned into a jerk with a bad temper. After scanning his brain, it became clear that the guy wasn’t trying to be conflict-oriented, his brain showed damage from toxic exposure. It turned out he had been working in a furniture factory where he was inhaling harmful chemicals that were harming his brain. When he changed jobs, he was able to follow through on the marital therapy recommendations, and they saved their marriage.
Solution: Looking at the brain with brain SPECT imaging can reveal evidence of toxic exposure.
It’s easy to blame a partner for a problem with drinking or drugs. But it’s harder to ask yourself why they are engaging in excessive drinking or substance abuse. In many cases, people with addictions are using substances as a way to self-medicate their underlying negative feelings or mental health issues.
Solution: By finding and treating the root causes of their distress and optimizing their brain health, they may be better able to follow a recovery plan and remain sober. This can help your marriage.
At Amen Clinics, we have helped thousands of couples overcome marital conflict and mental health/brain health issues so you can mend relationships and heal past hurts. If you and your significant other need help, call 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.