Study Links Two Personality Traits with Hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease

Our personalities can help determine the direction our lives take and the people who gravitate to us. Could our personalities also clue us in on future Alzheimer’s risk? A new study says they may.

Researchers at Florida State University explored the link between certain characteristics and brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. They found that neuroticism and conscientiousness were connected with hallmarks of the disease. The findings can be found in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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Dr. Antonio Terracciano, lead author and professor of geriatrics at the FSU College of Medicine, explains, “We have done studies showing who’s at risk of developing dementia, but those other studies were looking at the clinical diagnosis. Here, we are looking at the neuropathology; that is, the lesions in the brain that tell us about the underlying pathological change. This study shows that even before clinical dementia, personality predicts the accumulation of pathology associated with dementia.”

The researchers say that higher neuroticism and lower conscientiousness are considered risk factors for Alzheimer’s. With this study, they were hoping to discover if these characteristics were connected with amyloid and tau neuropathology. Amyloid and tau build-up are characteristic features of Alzheimer’s.

To look for the link, the team used data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, as well as other previously published studies on Alzheimer’s neuropathology and personality. Overall, more than 3,000 participants were involved. These participants had completed a five-factor personality test and had undergone amyloid and tau positron emission tomography.

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The researchers found that there were more amyloid and tau deposits in the brains of those who had higher neuroticism scores and lower conscientiousness scores. They also found these associations were stronger in studies with cognitively normal people than in those involving people with cognitive problems. This suggests that people who are highly conscientious and less neurotic may have protections against Alzheimer’s, as their personalities may help delay or prevent the hallmarks of the disease.

Dr. Terracciano explains, “Such protection against neuropathology may derive from a lifetime difference in people’s emotions and behaviors. For example, past research has shown that low neuroticism helps with managing stress and reduces the risk of common mental health disorders. Similarly, high conscientiousness is consistently related to healthy lifestyles, like physical activity. Over time, more adaptive personality traits can better support metabolic and immunological functions, and ultimately prevent or delay the neurodegeneration process.”

If you’d like to read more about the study, you can do so here.

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