Divorced and single people had the highest prevalence.
Asta Hberg is a physician at St. Olav’s Hospital, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), and a NIPH/FHI researcher. She claims that the survey results surprised her.
In the HUNT survey, roughly 150 000 persons from the former country of Nord-Trndelag agreed to have their health information used for research purposes. The researchers examined the prevalence of dementia with health risks such as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, psychological difficulties, and having close friends.
“We thought that these factors would mean something, but they didn’t explain anything,” says Håberg.
However, the researchers discovered that having children was significant and lowered the incidence of dementia by 60% among the study’s unmarried participants.
“Some people have theorized that if you have children, you stay more cognitively engaged. For example, you have to deal with people and participate in activities that you wouldn’t otherwise have to do. This stimulates your brain so that it possibly works better. That way you build up a kind of cognitive reserve,” says Håberg.
Does Brain Reserve Protect Against Dementia
This brain ‘reserve’ is not structural. It is not visible on an MRI scan or by opening the skull and seeing it within. It is part of the ‘mystery of dementia’. However, Hberg expects that this research may help to solve some of the enigmas.
“We don’t know whether it’s being married or having children that protect against dementia, or if it’s a case of pre-selection, for example. This would mean that people who have a lower probability of developing dementia also have a higher probability of finding a partner and having children. But the fact that we have the HUNT Study means that we have a lot of data available that we haven’t yet used to investigate this further,” Håberg says.
She is not convinced, as a doctor, that dementia is an unavoidable result of aging.
“It’s common to think that ‘if you live long enough, sooner or later you’ll develop dementia’. I’m not so sure I agree with that, given this theory that we may have cognitive reserves,” she said. “It could be that certain conditions might help to build up such reserves, which means that you start with more connections in the brain. For example, we’ve observed that education is a factor and that the more education you have, the better the ‘reserves’ that you build up.”
Even Nevertheless, when a highly educated individual develops Alzheimer’s, the disease progresses at the same rate as it does for everyone else. Thus, the reserves act as a delaying agent – but only until the disease strikes.
Leave a Reply