A recent article published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association could give insights into just how personality traits impact a person’s likelihood to be diagnosed with dementia.
The research, conducted by the University of California Davis and Northwestern University, posits that people with personality traits including positive affect, extraversion and conscientiousness are less likely to be diagnosed with dementia compared to those with negative affect and neuroticism, the association with distress and dissatisfaction, according to a news release regarding the effort.
Emorie Beck, assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis and first author of the paper, and other researchers studied data from eight previous projects that included 44,000 people, 1,703 of whom developed dementia.
“We wanted to leverage new technology to synthesize these studies and test the strength and consistency of these associations,” Beck said, who also noted that an individual’s personality could be linked to dementia risk through behavior.
The UCD and NW teams looked at measures of the “big five” personality traits as defined as: Agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience. A measure known as subjective well-being, defined as positive and negative life affect and life satisfaction was also compared to clinical symptoms of dementia. On top of that, brain pathology of study participants was also reviewed.
When reviewing results, researchers learned that higher scores on negative traits and lowered scores on positive traits were tied to elevated dementia risk, while inversely higher scores on openness to experience, agreeableness and life satisfaction had “a protective effect” in related studies, according to the release.
But while the research could show links between personality and dementia risk, researchers found “no link” between personality traits and the “actual neuropathology” in the brains of people following death, something Beck said was the “most surprising finding to us.”
“If personality is predictive of performance on cognitive tests but not pathology, what might be happening?,” Beck said.
What could be occurring may be that some personality traits could make people more resilient” to effects of diseases including Alzheimer’s. Researchers also studied other factors that could influence the relationship between personality and dementia risk including age, gender and educational attainment, the release notes.
The research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging.