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Dementia Isn't Contagious -- or Is It?

- Monday, March 21, 2011

Recent research by Johns Hopkins and Utah State University has found that a person is more likely to develop dementia if his or her spouse has dementia. Here's what the research suggests.
One thousand two hundred twenty-one married couples age 65 and older were selected from the Cache County Study on Memory and Aging, a trial that began in 1995. Couples were followed for up to 12.6 years, with a median follow-up time of 3.3 years. Dementia was diagnosed in 255 of the 2,442 participants.

Individuals whose spouses were diagnosed with dementia had a six-fold greater risk of dementia, even after adjusting for other factors, than individuals whose spouses showed no signs of dementia. Husbands had a significantly higher risk of developing dementia than wives.
Bottom line: The physical and mental burden of caregiving, the emotional stress associated with watching a loved one struggle with dementia, shared environmental risks like similar diets, or homogamy (similar individuals are more likely to marry) are among the possible reasons. More research is needed to pinpoint the cause and find the best way of keeping one spouse from sharing the fate of their husband or wife.
Reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 58, page 895)