Spouses of Dementia Patients Have Higher Risk of Dementia

Initially non-affected partners have six-fold increased risk; husbands' risk is even higher
By Rick Ansorge
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- Among older married couples in which one spouse has dementia, the other spouse -- especially the husband -- has a significantly higher risk of also developing dementia, and a potential causal factor may be the chronic, often severe stress associated with dementia caregiving, according to a study published online May 6 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Maria C. Norton, Ph.D., of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and colleagues conducted a population-based study of 2,442 married adults ages 65 and older living in a rural county in northern Utah who were followed for up to 12 years of longitudinal cognitive evaluation.

During follow-up, incident dementia was diagnosed in 125 husbands only, 70 wives only, and 30 couples (60 people). Compared to subjects whose spouses were dementia free, the researchers found that spouses of subjects with incident dementia had a significantly higher risk for incident dementia themselves (hazard rate ratio, 6.0). Their sex-specific analyses found that the risk was significantly higher in husbands than in wives (hazard rate ratios, 11.9 and 3.7, respectively).

"A clear greater risk of incident dementia in older adults whose spouses have dementia was found, but further study is needed to isolate specific mechanisms, identifying particular vulnerabilities in spouses so exposed," the authors conclude. "If caregiver stress is more definitively found to play a causal role, subsequent studies may examine the effect of the spouse's rate of clinical dementia progression and behavioral disturbances to identify specific patterns that are more stressful to spouses of persons with dementia. Such information could be used to develop interventions for more-vulnerable individuals."

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