There has been considerable research linking caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's disease to depression, poorer overall health, and even earlier death.
"The association was strong for both men and women, but the good news is that most people in the study did not develop dementia even when their spouse did," says study researcher Maria Norton, PhD, of Utah State University tells WebMD.
Dementia and Alzheimer Risk Among Married Couples
Up to 12 years later, however, dementia had been diagnosed in the husband alone in 125 couples and in the wife alone in 70 couples. In 30 couples, both the husband and wife had developed dementia.
The study participants were not asked if they were the caregivers for a spouse with dementia, but most lived in the same home with these spouses after they were diagnosed.
After taking into account well-known risk factors for Alzheimer's disease, including age, sex, genetic predisposition, and socioeconomic status, having a spouse with dementia was associated with a sixfold increase in dementia risk (11.9-fold increase in risk among men and 3.7-fold increase among women).
The National Institute on Aging funded the research.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
SOURCES: Norton, M.C. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, May 5, 2010; vol 58: pp 895-900.