HealthDay News — Widowhood accelerates cognitive decline among those at risk for Alzheimer disease, according to a study published online Feb. 26 in JAMA Network Open.

Kelsey D. Biddle, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues used data from the Harvard Aging Brain Study to identify 257 married, widowed, and unmarried (i.e., never married, divorced, or separated) participants (mean age, 73.5 years). Baseline evaluations assessed neocortical β-amyloid levels using Pittsburgh compound B positron emission tomography and four annual cognitive assessments (collected September 2010 to February 2017).

The researchers found that compared with married participants, widowed participants demonstrated worsening cognitive performance after adjustment for age, sex, socioeconomic status, depression, and β-amyloid levels. There were no differences between married and unmarried participants. Cognitive decline was even steeper among widowed participants with higher baseline β-amyloid levels, indicating both independent and interactive associations of β-amyloid levels and widowhood with cognition. The rate of cognitive decline among widowed participants with high β-amyloid was nearly three times faster than among married participants with high β-amyloid.

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“These findings suggest that widowhood may be an understudied risk factor for cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer disease and highlight the need for increased research and clinical attention to this high-risk group,” the authors write.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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