Background: This study examines the association between marital and parental status and their individual and combined effect on risk of dementia diseases in a population-based longitudinal study while controlling for a range of potential confounders, including social networks and exposure to stressful negative life events.
Methods: A total of 1,609 participants without dementia, aged 65 years and over, were followed for an average period of 8.6 years (SD = 4.8). During follow-up, 354 participants were diagnosed with dementia. Cox regression was used to investigate the effect of marital and parental status on risk of dementia.
Results: In univariate Cox regression models (adjusted for age as time scale), widowed (hazard ratio (HR) 1.42, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.13-1.78), and not having children (HR 1.54, 95% CI = 1.15-2.06) were significantly associated with incident dementia. In multivariate analyses that included simultaneously marital and parental status and covariates that were found to be significant in univariate models (p < 0.10), the HR was 1.30 (95% CI = 1.01-1.66) for widowed, and 1.51 (95% CI = 1.08-2.10) for those not having children. Finally, a group of four combined factors was constructed: married parents (reference), married without children, widowed parents, and widowed without children. The combined effect revealed a 1.3 times higher risk (95% CI = 1.03-1.76) of dementia in widow parents, and a 2.2 times higher risk (95% CI = 1.36-3.60) in widowed persons without children, in relation to married parents. No significant difference was observed for those being married and without children.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that marital- and parental status are important risk factors for developing dementia, with especially increased risk in those being both widowed and without children.