Dutiful, caring children who visit their elderly parents help to prevent them getting Alzheimer’s disease, a study found.
A ‘reliable, approachable and understanding relationship’ with spouses or partners, children and immediate family was found to have a major impact on reducing Alzheimer’s.
But a stressful, bad relationship with one’s adult children and immediate family made getting dementia much more likely – as does having no contact.
The researchers findings lend weight to the comments made by the elderly King Lear who said, ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child!’
The findings show that a bad relationship with one’s family members increases the chances of getting Alzheimer’s more than having a positive relationship reduces it.
A new study found that children who visit their elderly parents help to prevent them getting Alzheimer’s disease (stock)
The authors state that ‘critical, unreliable, annoying’ children and family members ‘can be a source of intense interpersonal stress which may have a negative impact on both physical and mental health of older adults’.
Researchers looked at 10,055 people who were free of Alzheimer’s in 2002 as part of a study called the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
The participants were interviewed every two years over a 10 years period afterwards. Whether they had begun to get dementia was based on self reports or information given by nominated informants.
The participants, who were aged 50 or over and living in England, also had to fill in a questionnaire that looked at their health and lifestyle.
Their level of social support from family members was based on the answers to six questions and assessed on a scale of 1-4 with one indicating the lowest level of support, and 4 the highest.
An increase of one point in the positive social support score led to up to a 17 per cent reduction in the instantaneous risk of developing dementia, the findings showed.
But negative support scores showed stronger effects – an increase of one point in the negative support score led to up to 31 per cent rise in the risk.
Negative support was characterised by experiences of critical’, unreliable and annoying behaviours from spouses or partners, children and other immediate family’, the researchers said.
The authors said that negative support had a stronger effect on incidence of Alzheimer’s than positive scores did.
The authors suggest that the ‘ stress of criticism and lack of reliability are possibly more harmful than the absence of a warm relationship.’
Possible effects of a bad relationship with one’s adult children may be an increased levels of drinking alcohol, smoking, sedentary lifestyles and obesity.
Of the 5,475 men and 4,580 women the study followed, 3.4 per cent were recorded as developing some form of dementia during 2004 – 2012.
Dr Mizanur Khondoker, a senior lecturer in medical statistics at UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: ‘It is well known that having a rich network of close relationships, including being married and having adult children, is related to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia.
‘However, a relationship or social connection that does not work well can be a source of intense interpersonal stress, which may have a negative impact on both physical and mental health of older adults.
It is not only the quantity of social connections, but the quality of those connections may be an important factor affecting older people’s cognitive health.
‘This work is a step toward better understanding of the impact of social relationships on dementia risk,’ he added.
UCL Prof Andrew Steptoe said: ‘Our results will add to the impetus underlying local and national efforts to help strengthen the social relationships of older people, many of whom are isolated and lonely.’
The research is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.