EXPERTS have revealed the personality traits that might predict your risk of dementia.
And it’s not good news if you’re a worrier.
Research by the universities of Victoria, Northwestern and Edinburgh wanted to see if those with slowing brains or dementia shared characteristics.
They used data from almost 2,000 older adults from Illinois.
Each participant had yearly assessments of their cognition as part of another study until they died.
Some 19 tests across five different domains, including episodic memory, problem solving and speed in identifying symbols or patterns.
Over the study period, the researchers looked for people who developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI), dementia, or died.
People with MCI have symptoms of memory loss above what is normal for their age, but they can still go about their lives as usual, unlike those with dementia.
However, a person with MCI is more likely to go on to develop dementia.
It is estimated that between five and 20 per cent of people aged over 65 have MCI, according to Alzheimer’s Society.
Researchers used a personality test to score people on the following Big Five traits that are familiar among mental health experts:
- Conscientiousness: This describes someone who is responsible, careful, and goal- and detail-oriented. They have high impulse control and tend to be organised and disciplined
- Agreeableness: This describes a person who is respectful, compassionate, trusting, forgiving and tries to avoid problems. They tend to be more cooperative and are helpful
- Neuroticism: This describes someone who gravitates toward unsettling emotions, such as anxiety and depression. They get upset easily and worry
- Openness: This describes a person who is open to new experiences and curious about the world. They are creative and happy to talk about abstract ideas
- Extraversion: This describes someone who seeks excitement and is active and highly sociable. They are talkative, have a lot of emotional expressiveness and are energised around others
The study found that older adults who score high in conscientiousness had a 22 per cent decreased risk of getting MCI, and four per cent lower risk of dementia.
They were also slightly less likely to later die from the disease.
Conversely, participants with higher neuroticism had a 12 per cent increased risk of the MCI and of dementia.
Participants with higher extraversion had decreased odds in several areas.
If they developed MCI, they had a 12 per cent increased risk of improving their condition.
The research paper said: “Individuals higher in conscientiousness and extraversion, and lower in neuroticism, had more years of cognitive health span, particularly female participants.”
Dr Tomiko Yoneda, study co-author, told Medical News Today that an 80-year-old, high in conscientiousness, may gain two additional years without cognitive impairment.
Therefore Dr Yoneda said increasing levels of conscientiousness “is one potential strategy for promoting healthy cognitive ageing”.
The causes of dementia are multifaceted, combining lifestyle choices, diet, genetics and our environment.
Dr David Merrill, an adult and geriatric psychiatrist, who was not involved in the study, had a theory for the findings.
He suggested persistent stress that may be more of a common occurrence in those with neuroticism, could lead to high cortisol levels.
High cortisol levels cause more rapid brain shrinkage, associated with risk of Alzheimer’s – the most common form of dementia.
He said: “Taking part in psychotherapy is to take a step back from a stressor and try to look at things from a different perspective [to increase] your cognitive flexibility.
“Increasing cognitive flexibility has been shown to correlate with better overall general health and may be an effective way to help protect your body from accelerated brain ageing.”
It’s not the first time scientists have linked neuroticism with higher odds of dementia.
Conversely, conscientious people showed fewer signs of these proteins in brain imaging, a team led by Florida State University College of Medicine showed.
Dr Claire Sexton, director of scientific programs and outreach at Alzheimer’s Association, who was not involved in the study, said highly conscientious individuals have been shown to have healthier lifestyles.
They tend to exercise and have better sleep, and are less likely to be depressed or smoke.
“There is a solid body of research connecting lifestyle, dementia risk, and biomarkers,” Dr Sexton said.
There are currently around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040. There is no cure for the disease, for which Alzhiemer’s is the most common form (75 per cent).