What is the background for this study?

Response: Prior research has shown that widowed older adults are more likely to experience cognitive decline than those who are married. However, there have been no prior studies of widowhood as a risk factor for cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of severe cognitive impairment.

Nancy Donovan MD What are the main findings?

Response: We found that widowhood and high brain amyloid, the Alzheimer’s disease protein, were both risk factors for cognitive decline over 3 years in a cognitively unimpaired, high functioning sample of older adults. Furthermore, there was a compounding effect related to these risk factors.

Among older adults with high amyloid, those who were widowed showed cognitive decline that was nearly three times faster than those who were married. This association of widowhood with cognitive decline was unrelated to other established risk factors such as greater age, female sex, level of depression, socioeconomic status, cardiovascular health measures, physical activity, level of social engagement and numbers of close relationships.


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