U.S. researchers have found that seniors whose spouses have Alzheimer's or another form dementia face an increased risk of dementia themselves.

Such a risk is six times higher than for other husbands and wives, according to researchers at Utah State University.

The study was published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The findings were based on analysis of 2,442 people (1,221 married couples), aged 65 and older, in Utah.

The participants were dementia-free at the start of the study. During 12 years of follow-up, 125 husbands and 70 wives developed dementia, and both the husband and wife developed dementia in 30 couples.

After adjusting for a number of factors, the researchers found that people with a spouse who developed dementia were six times more likely to develop dementia themselves than people whose spouses never had dementia. Men had a higher risk than women. Older age was also significantly associated with dementia risk.

“Future studies are needed to determine how much of this association is due to caregiver stress compared to a shared environment,” said study leader Dr. Maria Norton at the university.

“On the positive side, the majority of individuals with spouses who develop dementia did not themselves develop dementia, therefore more research is needed to explore which factors distinguish those who are more vulnerable.”

“Given the significant public health concern of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, and the upcoming shift in population age composition, continued research into the causes of dementia is urgent,” Dr. Norton said.

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