The quality of your relationships with your adult children and spouse might influence your chances of developing dementia, new research suggests.
While having supportive adult children appeared to be protective, having unsupportive relatives of all ilk seemed to have an opposite — and more dramatic — effect, the British scientists reported.
The finding “suggests older adults who experienced a reliable, approachable and understanding relationship with their adult children were less likely to develop dementia,” said study author Mizanur Khondoker. “Conversely, a close relationship that did not work well — such as experiencing critical, unreliable and irritating behaviors from spouses or partners, children and other immediate family — was related to increased risk of developing dementia.”
To examine how family support might affect dementia risk, the researchers looked at data that had been collected between 2002 and 2012 that included more than 10,000 men and women aged 50 and older. All were deemed dementia-free when they enrolled in the study.
The participants completed questionnaires in which they detailed the social support they had been receiving, or lacking, from at least one key relationship. Such relationships could involve children, spouses, friends, and/or close relatives such as cousins, siblings, parents, and/or grandchildren.
The researchers observed that those who had received positive support from their adult children faced a reduced risk of dementia. Khondoker noted that for every one-point increase in positive support from an adult child, dementia risk dropped by an average of 17 percent.
Conversely, for every one-point increase in an individual’s overall negative social support “score” — the risk for dementia went up by 31 percent, he said.
The research wasn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between family support and dementia risk.
But the research team theorized that social support may promote healthy behaviors, such as minimal drinking and an active lifestyle. On the other hand, a negative close relationship might discourage such positive choices, while also giving rise to increased stress.
“Further research is needed to better understand any causal mechanisms that explain the statistical associations observed,” Khondoker added.
The findings were published May 2 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Understanding whether relationships are causal factors or a consequence is the next step of inquiry here.”