Your Spouse Can Make You Demented - Seriously!
No, Alzheimer's is not contagious - not in the usual way. But a new study conducted by the department of Family, Consumer and Human Development at Utah State University revealed that spouses of dementia patients are, on average, at six times greater risk for the disease than other persons of the same age, socioeconomic factors, access to medical care, and diet and exercise.
But the risk for males was considerably higher - 12 times that of their peers - versus female spouses - 4 times that of their peers. This data was so surprising that the data was run again, this time taking into consideration even more factors; however, the data remained the same.
The study followed 1,221 couples for 12 years. At the start, all of the volunteer members (2,2442) were at least 65 years of age and free of dementia. At the end of the study, 255 persons had been diagnosed with dementias, 192 of those with Alzheimer's disease.
Though participants were not asked if those at higher risk were caregivers for their spouses, it was assumed that they were, although they may not have been the sole caregivers. It is known that caregiving for Alzheimer's patients is extremely stressful and that Alzheimer's caregivers are prone to depression. Both long term stress and depression create physiological changes in the body which can lead to Alzheimer's disease. Depression may also lead to lack of exercise, lack of attention to necessary medical care, and a general loss in the sense of self vis-a-vis the attention and effort demanded by the Alzheimer's spouse.
As for the difference between the degree of risk for men versus women, it is probably due to the role women play in our society - that they are more accustomed to being the caregiver than men.
More studies need to be focused on exactly what is contributing to spousal caregiver risks for Alzheimer's, but Maria Norton, lead author of the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found one bright spot. "The good news is that most of the spouses did not develop dementia," she said.
(Yes, but I don't like their chances.)