Perhaps you can’t will yourself to never develop dementia, but research has shown that certain types of personalities and behaviors are associated with lower risk levels for developing the disease and a higher likelihood of progressing less quickly through the stages of the disease.
In a recent study, led by Tomiko Yoneda from the University of Victoria and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers investigated the effects of three personality traits – conscientiousness, neuroticism, and extraversion – on participants’ cognitive states and mortality.
Data for the study was borrowed from the Rush Memory Aging Program, which investigated people’s cognitive health in the greater Chicago area starting way back in 1997.
1,954 participants, 74 percent of whom were women, were involved in the program. None of them started out with a dementia diagnosis. Their average age was 80 years, and they were recruited from senior housing facilities, church groups, and other organizations. The NEO Five-Factor Inventory was used to calculate their most prominent personality traits. Their progression through the stages of cognitive impairment and, for some, their eventual mortality, were tracked over time with annual assessments.
The researchers concluded that individuals, particularly if they were female, were more likely to experience more years of cognitive health if they scored high in conscientiousness and low in neuroticism. These people also showed a greater capacity to recover from mild cognitive impairment.
People who struggled with the stress and anxiety associated with neuroticism, on the other hand, were more likely to experience cognitive decline and less likely to recover from it.
People with extraversion had a more complex, although arguably positive, relationship with dementia. Extraverted invidivuals did not appear to have any protection against cognitive decline, but they were more likely to recover from it. This suggests that they may be the people who are most likely to seek help for mental health issues.
The researchers believe that constantly being in a state of stress, especially for long periods of time or even for a lifetime, puts extra strain on your brain and makes it work harder, which, in turn, serves to wear it out faster and cause damage to it.
It has been shown in the past, in fact, that chronic stress is associated with a smaller brain volume and other markers that suggest cognitive decline may be occurring.
The lesson here is that your personality does matter, and so does your stress level. What we don’t know is whether attempting to make changes to your behaviors and personality can potentially alter the course of your life. But it certainly can’t hurt to try. So when you can, try to worry less, reduce stress, and be more open, outgoing, and mindful! Perhaps it will change your brain and give you a healthier life!
It should be noted, however, that none of the personality traits the researchers studied had an effect on whether a person eventually got dementia or on their overall longevity. So if you’re feeling a little hopeless about personality traits you just can’t change, know that they’re not everything. Take heart, friend!Whizzco