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A new study suggests that people who have strong, loving relationships with their families are less likely to develop dementia. We take a look at the evidence

A new UK study revealed this week that having bad relationships with partners, siblings and immediate family can make it more likely you’ll get dementia. The ten year study by researchers from four British universities had more than 10,000 participants and concluded that that the stress of having relatives who were ‘critical, unreliable and annoying,’ makes people more likely to develop the disease.

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,’ says Dr Mizanur Khondoker, a senior lecturer in medical statistics at the University of East Anglia.

The researchers suggested that negative relationships cause unhappiness which can lead someone to drink and smoke which can then increase their likelihood of dementia. In other words, it isn’t the relationship itself that cause dementia, it’s how a person choses to deal with it.

There’s no doubt this is interesting, possibly far reaching research. It was fascinating to see how newspapers chose to interpret it, often by inducing fear and guilt. For example;

The Sun leads with ‘Nagging can kill: Rowing with your partner significantly increases your risk of dementia’

The Daily Mail leads with ‘Why it’s important to visit your elderly parents; Maintaining a good relationship helps to prevent them from getting dementia’

What concerns us however is how a story like this might make you feel, especially if you’re caring for a loved one with dementia. Maybe you’re always been very close and find this research bears no relevance to your own situation. Or maybe you find the suggestion that their condition may have been induced or exacerbated by a relationship close to home, upsetting. Perhaps you didn’t have a particularly good relationship with them yourselves – or they with you. Maybe you did row and maybe you still do. The truth is people are complicated, and so are their family relationships, whether they have dementia or not. So by all means read this research and digest it, but please don’t take it personally.