Harriet J. Forbes, Angel Y.S. Wong, Caroline Morton, Krishnan Bhaskaran, Liam Smeeth,
Marcus Richards, Sigrun A.J. Schmidt, Sinead M. Langan and Charlotte Warren-Gash

Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 72 (2019) 653–662


Background In the UK, an estimated one third of people with dementia have not received a diagnosis. Good evidence suggests that dementia risk is increased among widowed individuals; however, it is not clear if they are being diagnosed in routine primary care.

Objective This study aimed to investigate if bereavement influenced the probability of having received a dementia diagnosis.

Methods A population-based cohort study using UK electronic health records, between 1997 and 2017, among 247,586 opposite-sex partners. Those experiencing partner bereavement were matched (age, sex, and date of bereavement) to a non-bereaved person living in a partnership. Multivariate cox regression was performed.

Results Partner bereavement was associated with an increased risk of receiving a diagnosis of dementia in the first three months (hazard ratio (HR) 1.43, 95%CI 1.20–1.71) and first six months (HR 1.24, 95%CI 1.09–1.41), while there was a small reduced risk of getting a dementia diagnosis over all follow-up (HR 0.94, 95%CI 0.89–0.98).

Conclusions Partner bereavement appears to lead to a short-term increased risk of the surviving partner receiving a diagnosis of dementia, suggesting that bereavement unmasks existing  undiagnosed dementia. Over the longer term, however, bereaved individuals are less likely to have a diagnosis of dementia in their health records than non-bereaved individuals.