July 23, 2024

New Study Suggests that Conscientious Personalities Have a Lower Risk of Dementia Diagnosis

According to a recent analysis conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis and Northwestern University, people with personality traits such as conscientiousness, extraversion, and positive affect are less likely to be diagnosed with dementia compared to those with neuroticism and negative affect. The analysis, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found that the difference was not linked to physical damage to brain tissue, but rather to how certain personality traits help individuals navigate the impairments caused by dementia.

Previous studies examining the relationship between personality traits and dementia have been limited in size and scope. Emorie Beck, assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis and first author of the paper, stated that the team aimed to synthesize these studies using new technology in order to test the strength and consistency of these associations.

By analyzing data from eight published studies involving over 44,000 individuals, including 1,703 people who developed dementia, the researchers assessed the big five personality traits (conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, neuroticism, and agreeableness) as well as subjective well-being to understand the potential correlations with clinical symptoms of dementia and brain pathology at autopsy.

Beck explains that personality is believed to be linked to dementia risk through behavior. For example, individuals with high scores on conscientiousness may be more likely to prioritize their health and engage in healthy habits, leading to better long-term health outcomes.

The findings of the analysis revealed that individuals with high scores on negative traits such as neuroticism and negative affect, and low scores on positive traits like conscientiousness, extraversion, and positive affect, had a higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia. Conversely, high scores on openness to experience, agreeableness, and life satisfaction had a protective effect, albeit in a smaller subset of studies. Surprisingly, no link was found between these personality traits and actual neuropathology in the brains of deceased individuals.

Beck notes that the lack of correlation between personality traits and neuropathology was the most surprising finding. However, the researchers suggest that certain personality traits may make individuals more resilient to the damage caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s. People with higher levels of these traits may find ways to cope with and work around impairments, even if they are not consciously aware of it. Previous studies conducted by members of the research team have shown that some individuals with significant neuropathology display little impairment on cognitive tests.

The analysis also looked at other factors, such as age, gender, and educational attainment, that could potentially moderate the relationship between personality and dementia risk and neuropathology. However, the researchers found very little evidence supporting these effects, except for a slight increase in conscientiousness’ protective effect with age.

While many factors contribute to the development of dementia, this study represents an important step in understanding the associations between personality traits and the risk of dementia. The team plans to continue and expand their research by examining individuals who show minimal impairment despite substantial neuropathology. Additionally, they intend to investigate other everyday factors that may play a role in the development of dementia.

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