27 Feb Widowhood Exacerbates Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer’s Disease
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Nancy J. Donovan, M.D.
Chief, Division of Geriatric Psychiatry
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA 02115
MedicalResearch.com: 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.
MedicalResearch.com: 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.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Widowhood appears to be a specific risk factor for cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease that is distinct from other previously identified risk factors.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Widowhood is very common in older adults, especially among older women.
In order to help this high risk group, it will be important to undertake research and design interventions to understand and counteract the influence of widowhood on cognitive decline in older adults.
Any disclosures? This research was supported by funding to Dr. Reisa Sperling and Dr. Keith Johnson for the Harvard Aging Brain Study from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and on NIA funding to Dr. Nancy Donovan.
Biddle KD, Jacobs HIL, d’Oleire Uquillas F, et al. Associations of Widowhood and β-Amyloid With Cognitive Decline in Cognitively Unimpaired Older Adults. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(2):e200121. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.0121
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