Your Personality May Impact Your Dementia Risk, Research Shows

Do you feel compelled to get all your tasks done well and efficiently? In addition to helping you out in the workplace or your creative endeavors, it may also protect you from dementia.

Research recently published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association investigated how a person’s likelihood of developing the disease is linked with the Big Five personality traits: conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, neuroticism, and agreeableness. The team also looked at how wellbeing factors like positive affect and life satisfaction play a role.

Smiling senior rides bike

Emorie Beck, first author and assistant professor of psychology at University of California Davis, says, “We wanted to leverage new technology to synthesize these studies and test the strength and consistency of these associations.”

Using data from eight different studies involving more than 44,000 people, the team learned that conscientiousness, extraversion, and positive affect were linked with a lower risk of a dementia diagnosis, compared to people with neuroticism and negative affect. In a smaller subset of studies, openness to experience, agreeableness, and life satisfaction were also linked with a lower risk.

Beck says certain behaviors stemming from these personality traits – like conscientious people being more apt to care for themselves – may be the reason behind their protective effect.

Three senior women laugh together

Interestingly, the team found that while some of these positive traits appeared to help stave off dementia, they didn’t have an impact on brain pathology.

Beck explains, “This was the most surprising finding to us. If personality is predictive of performance on cognitive tests but not pathology, what might be happening?”

The researchers believe this may have to do with these traits helping people navigate the difficulties of the disease better than others, making them more resilient to the brain changes. When the researchers looked for other possible factors that could explain the disconnect between dementia risk and brain pathology, they didn’t seem to find any.

Seniors walking with hands clasped behind their backs

Going forward, the team hopes to investigate how or why people with a lot of brain changes show little cognitive impairment.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other modifiable factors that can play a role in dementia risk include hypertension, insufficient exercise, obesity, diabetes, depression, smoking, hearing loss, and binge drinking. The agency also says that managing chronic conditions can improve brain health.

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