June 05, 2020
Open-minded people may be less likely to develop dementia. But being neurotic could make a person more susceptible to cognitive decline.
That's according to a study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, which found certain personality traits may predispose people to dementia precursors.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York examined five personality traits — neuroticism, extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness — and their association to motoric cognitive risk and mild cognitive impairment, a pair of conditions that can lead to dementia.
The study found that people with the openness trait had a 6% reduced risk of developing MCR. By contrast, people with the neuroticism trait had a 6% increased risk of developing MCI without memory loss. The associations remained significant even when scientists factored in lifestyle and mood.
"While more studies are needed, our results provide evidence that personality traits play an independent role in the risk for or protection against specific pre-dementia syndromes," the study's lead author, Emmeline Ayers, said in a statement. "From a clinical perspective, these findings emphasize the importance of accounting for aspects of personality when assessing for dementia risk."
The study tracked 524 adults, ages 65 and older, for a period of three years. Thirty-eight participants developed MCR and 69 participants developed MCI during the study period.
The study had several limitations. The study population was not ethnically diverse and the follow-up period was fairly short, researchers said. But their data suggests examining personality traits more closely may prove beneficial in preventing dementia.
Symptoms of MCR include gait disturbances and memory problems. On top of dementia, it also can lead to motor disability, falls and death. MCI causes a slight but measurable decline in cognitive ability, affecting memory, speech and decision making. These conditions are not as problematic as dementia but are considered greater than the normal decline associated with aging.
Previous research also has found connections between personality traits and their ability to predict dementia. A University of Rochester study found that the personality traits of high school students from 1960 could predict dementia decades later. The teenagers who had higher levels of vigor, calmness and maturity had a lower risk of developing dementia.