A recent study by the University of California, Davis, and Northwestern University has shed new light on the relationship between personality traits and the risk of dementia. The research, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, marks a significant step in understanding how certain personality characteristics can influence the likelihood of developing dementia.
The study, led by Emorie Beck, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis, analysed data from over 44,000 individuals, with 1,703 cases of dementia development. Researchers focused on the ‘Big Five’ personality traits – conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, neuroticism, and agreeableness – and subjective well-being aspects, including positive and negative affect and life satisfaction. The analysis compared these traits with clinical symptoms of dementia and brain pathology at autopsy.
Interestingly, the findings revealed that high scores in negative traits like neuroticism and negative affect and low scores in positive traits like conscientiousness, extraversion, and positive affect were linked to a higher risk of dementia diagnosis. Conversely, traits like openness to experience, agreeableness, and life satisfaction seemed to offer some protection, although this was observed in a smaller subset of the studies.
Notably, the research found no direct correlation between these personality traits and actual neuropathology in the brains of individuals post-mortem. This suggests that some personality traits may offer resilience against the impairments caused by conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, helping individuals navigate cognitive challenges more effectively. The study also explored how factors like age, gender, and educational attainment might moderate the relationship between personality and dementia risk, discovering that the protective effect of conscientiousness increased with age.
This study represents a significant step in unravelling the complex interactions between personality, behaviour, and dementia. It underscores the potential of focusing on personality traits and well-being in early life as a strategy to mitigate the risk of dementia later in life. The researchers plan to continue exploring this domain, examining individuals who show minimal cognitive impairment despite significant neuropathology and investigating other everyday factors that may contribute to dementia development.
The research was supported by grants from the NIH National Institute on Aging and involved collaboration with various academic institutions, reflecting a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to understanding dementia and its predictors.