NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Older adults exhibiting strong behavioral symptoms like agitation, aggression, and lack of self-restraint are more likely to go through a divorce than those with milder symptoms, a recent study reveals.
However, as dementia advances, the chance of divorce appears to diminish. The study by a team at the Yale School of Public Health suggests that while certain behavioral changes can strain marriages in older age, more profound cognitive decline or severe dementia seems to reduce the likelihood of couples separating.
There’s been a noticeable increase in divorces among older adults in recent times. Dementia, a condition affecting memory and cognitive functions, often introduces challenges in married lives, such as the responsibility of caregiving, emotional disconnect, and financial stress.
Yale researchers drew data from 37 National Institute on Aging/National Institutes of Health Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers (ADRCs) across the United States. They examined 263 couples who were either married or in a committed relationship and had divorced or separated during their time at an ADRC. For comparison, the study also included 1,238 similar-aged couples who remained together.
Researchers discovered the more advanced someone’s case of dementia became (measured using a clinical dementia rating scale), the less likely a couple was to divorce or separate. On the flip side, stronger behavioral symptoms, gauged by the Neuro Psychiatric Inventory (NPI) scores, increased the chances of divorce or separation. So, as behavioral symptoms intensified, the risk of marital breakdown rose. Those in the advanced stages of dementia, though, were least likely to break up.
Researchers believe addressing behavioral symptoms in elderly individuals could benefit not just the individuals but their partners and families as well. Given these insights, the study’s authors advocate for additional relationship support, particularly for couples where one partner is in the early stages of dementia.
“This study shows that neuropsychiatric behavioral symptoms such as agitation/aggression, depression/dysphoria, disinhibition and elation/euphoria are risk factors for divorce or separation in older adult couples,” the study’s authors say in a media release. “It also shows that as dementia progresses the likelihood of divorce or separation greatly decreases.”
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
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