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Specific personality traits linked to lower risk of dementia, study finds

New research suggests that certain personality traits could play a role in reducing the risk of dementia.
New research suggests that certain personality traits could play a role in reducing the risk of dementia. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)


New research from the University of California, Davis and Northwestern University suggests that certain personality traits could play a role in reducing the risk of dementia.


The study, published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, indicates that traits such as conscientiousness, extraversion, and positive affect may contribute to a lower likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia compared to individuals with traits like neuroticism and negative affect.


 
 

Personality traits and dementia risk


Emorie Beck, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis and the lead author of the study, highlighted the significance of this research, noting that previous studies on personality traits and dementia were limited in scope and population representation.


Forest plots of significant overall and sample-specific estimates of age
Forest plots of significant overall and sample-specific estimates of age (in years, centered at 60) and education (in years, centered at 12) moderating the association between Big Five personality characteristics (8) and later dementia diagnosis (left). OR = median exponentiated log odds ratio of the posterior; CI = 95% Bayesian credible interval. (CREDIT: Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association)


Beck explained, "We wanted to leverage new technology to synthesize these studies and test the strength and consistency of these associations." If these connections hold true, interventions targeting personality traits earlier in life could potentially reduce dementia risk in the long term.


 
 

The study analyzed data from eight previous studies, encompassing more than 44,000 individuals, of whom 1,703 developed dementia.


Researchers examined various personality traits, including the "big five" (conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, neuroticism, and agreeableness), as well as subjective well-being factors such as positive and negative affect and life satisfaction.


 

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These traits were compared to clinical symptoms of dementia, including performance on cognitive tests, and brain pathology observed during autopsy.


Personality traits are commonly thought to influence dementia risk through behavioral patterns. For instance, individuals with high conscientiousness scores may exhibit healthier lifestyle habits, leading to better long-term health outcomes.


 
 

The study found that high scores on negative traits like neuroticism and negative affect, along with low scores on positive traits such as conscientiousness, extraversion, and positive affect, were associated with a higher risk of dementia diagnosis. Additionally, high scores on openness to experience, agreeableness, and life satisfaction appeared to have a protective effect, although in a smaller subset of studies.


Surprisingly, the researchers discovered no significant link between these personality traits and neuropathology in the brains of deceased individuals. Emorie Beck expressed her surprise, stating, "If personality is predictive of performance on cognitive tests but not pathology, what might be happening?"


One possible explanation is that certain personality traits could enhance resilience against diseases like Alzheimer's, enabling individuals to cope with impairments more effectively.


 
 

The study also investigated potential moderating factors such as age, gender, and educational attainment but found minimal evidence of their effects. Beck noted, "We found almost no evidence for effects, except that conscientiousness's protective effect increased with age."


While numerous factors contribute to dementia development, this study represents an important initial step in understanding the relationship between personality and dementia risk.


The researchers intend to expand their investigation, including examining individuals who exhibit minimal impairment despite significant neuropathology. Additionally, they plan to explore other everyday factors that may influence dementia development.


 
 

The research was conducted collaboratively, with contributions from various institutions including Northwestern University, Rush University Medical Center, Washington University School of Medicine, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.






For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by the The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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