Your Personality Might Help Shield You From Dementia

FRIDAY, Dec. 1, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Got a naturally sunny disposition? It might protect you from dementia as the years advance, new research shows.

A team at Northwestern University in Chicago report that certain personality traits -- being conscientious, outgoing and positive -- appear to lower a person's odds for a dementia diagnosis.

On the other hand, being neurotic and more negative in outlook and behavior was tied to a higher risk for mental decline, the same study found.

The good news: Daily behaviors are probably the key factor here, and behaviors can be changed.

People's personalities can influence whether or not daily habits are healthy or unhealthy for the brain, explained a team led by researcher Eileen Graham, an associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern.

“Neuroticism is related to dementia decline, and people with neuroticism are more prone to anxiousness, moodiness and worry, whereas conscientious people are more likely to exercise, make and go to preventive health appointments and drink less,” Graham said in a university news release.

“So, maybe that’s where an intervention might be useful to improve someone’s health behaviors for better health outcomes," Graham reasoned.

The new analysis focused on what psychologists have long called the "Big Five" personality traits: conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, neuroticism and agreeableness.

Graham's team looked at data from eight studies. Together, the studies included more than 44,000 people -- 1,703 of whom went on to develop dementia.

High scores for negative traits, such as neuroticism and negative emotional states, plus low scores for conscientiousness, extraversion and positive affect, all appeared to raise the odds for dementia.

Conversely, high scores on openness to experience, agreeableness and life satisfaction were associated with a lower risk for brain decline, the team found.

These trends held even after researchers factored out other influences, such as age, gender and level of education.

There was also no evidence that physical damage to the brain played a role in the findings, Graham and colleagues noted.

Instead, positive personality traits may, over a lifetime, give people resilience to illnesses such as Alzheimer's and other dementia -- even if they aren't aware of this.

So, even if brain changes are taking place, an upbeat personality might be countering the effect and allowing people to better cope, the researchers theorized.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and published Nov. 29 in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

More information

Find out more about things you can do every day to prevent dementia, at the Alzheimer's Society.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Nov. 29, 2023

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