Certain personality traits have been linked to developing syndromes which can precede dementia, according to a study.
Openness was associated with a lower risk of developing the pre-dementia syndrome motoric cognitive risk, which is characterized by a slow gait and thinking problems. Neuroticism was meanwhile tied to an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment, where a person has minor problems with cognition that are worse than expected for a healthy person of their age, but not serious enough to be defined as dementia.
“These findings are consistent with previous studies that indicated neuroticism is a risk factor for cognitive impairment, and openness provides a protective effect against cognitive impairment,” the authors wrote in their study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The authors of the paper explored the potential link between neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness and a persons’ chances of developing the pre-dementia syndromes mild cognitive impairment and motoric cognitive risk.
The study involved 524 people aged 65 or over from Westchester County, New York. The participants, who didn’t have dementia at the start of the study, visited a research center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to have cognitive, psychological and mobility tests. They also completed a questionnaire to document their personality traits. Of the total participants, 62 percent were women. Three years after the start of the study, the team followed up with the participants and found 38 had developed motoric cognitive risk and 69 mild cognitive impairment.
It’s not clear what underlies the link between certain traits and pre-dementia, according to the team, as it could be the case that personally traits are markers of decline in areas of a person’s cognitive function. Alternatively, certain traits may cause dementia, they said.
The study was limited in several ways, the team said, including that it had a relatively short follow-up time. In addition, the group wasn’t ethnically diverse, meaning the findings may not relate to wider populations.
The researchers wrote: “These findings provide preliminary evidence of personality traits as predictors of pre-dementia syndromes in aging, and they raise the possibility that personality traits play an independent role in the risk for or protection against particular pre-dementia syndromes.”
The results could have important implications for doctors assessing dementia risk in patients, particularly individuals “who are on the high end of the neuroticism or openness spectrum.”
Co-author Emmeline Ayers of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine said in a statement: “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.
“From a clinical perspective, these findings emphasize the importance of accounting for aspects of personality when assessing for dementia risk.”
Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at the U.K.-based charity Alzheimer’s Research U.K. who didn’t work on the paper, told Newsweek: “While observational studies like this can be important for picking out health trends, this type of research is not able to tell us about cause and effect. This study adds to existing evidence of a potential link between personality types and cognitive decline, but we don’t yet understand the underlying reasons behind this link.”
Imarisio said: “The risk of developing memory problems is complex and is not down to your personality alone but is likely to be a mix of age, genetics and lifestyle factors. There is no sure-fire way to prevent MCI, and research like this is underway to learn more about why some people are at more risk than others.
“The best current evidence indicates that staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking within the recommended guidelines moderation and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support healthy brain aging.”