Development and Progression of Dementia Diseases
Do personality traits influence the risk of dementia and the course of the disease?
Advanced age is generally considered to be the most significant risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition to this main factor, there are numerous other influences that can promote the development of this brain disease. The latest research findings now indicate that specific personality traits can also increase or mitigate the risk and progression of dementia.
A recent meta-study by scientists from the University of California, Davis, and Northwestern University has shown that people with character traits such as care, sociability and a generally positive attitude towards life are less likely to develop dementia than those who tend towards neuroticism and negative emotions. This observation appears to be less related to direct physical changes in the brains of dementia patients, but rather to the individual’s ability to cope with the challenges of dementia due to certain personality traits. The study was published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Over 44,000 people analyzed in study on “Big Five” personality traits
Emorie Beck, assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis and lead author of the article, explained that previous research had already attempted to find correlations between personality traits and dementia, but these were mostly minor and mainly concerned specific populations.
In their study on the relationship between personality and dementia risk, the researchers now analyzed data from eight studies involving more than 44,000 people from four countries on two continents, 1,703 of whom developed dementia.
The study took into account the so-called “Big Five” personality traits of the participants, which are regarded as a fundamental model in the field of personality psychology. These traits, which are present to varying degrees in each person, include
- Openness: A person’s willingness to try new experiences
- Conscientiousness: A person’s level of motivation, discipline and reliability.
- Extraversion: A person’s degree of sociability and sociability.
- Compatibility: How cooperative, friendly and empathetic someone behaves.
- Neuroticism: A person’s level of anxiety, inhibition, moodiness and insecurity.
Factors of subjective well-being, such as positive and negative affect, were also included in the analysis. Positive affect refers to emotions such as joy and energy, while negative affect includes negative feelings such as sadness and fear.
Beck explains that it was generally assumed that a person’s personality influences their risk of dementia through their behavior. For example, people with high scores in conscientiousness tend to eat healthier and take significantly more care of their health.
Specific personality traits can reduce the severity of dementia impairment
The researchers found that high levels of negative traits (such as neuroticism and negative affect) and low levels of positive traits (such as conscientiousness, extraversion and positive affect) correlate with an increased risk of a dementia diagnosis. High scores in openness to experience, agreeableness and life satisfaction showed a protective effect in a smaller subgroup of studies.
Differences do not necessarily depend on brain tissue damage
The study emphasizes that the differences in dementia development are not necessarily related to physical damage to brain tissue in patients. Instead, it seems to be about the way certain personality traits influence how people cope with the impairments caused by dementia. Despite existing brain damage, people with these traits can find ways to cope with or counteract impairments, the researchers report. Some studies have shown that people show little impairment on cognitive tests despite pathological changes in the brain.
The study also took into account other factors that could potentially influence the relationship between personality traits, dementia risk and neuropathology, including age, gender and education level. The study found hardly any significant effects of these variables, with the exception that the protective effect of conscientiousness increased with increasing age of the subjects.
Beck and colleagues are impressed by the results and emphasize that these findings give hope. Even if the disease itself cannot be prevented, there is the possibility of alleviating the clinical symptoms and reducing the risk of cognitive impairment.
The scientists see the study as a first step in investigating the links between personality and dementia. Future research should be expanded to include people who show only minor impairments despite pathological changes.
Personalized medicine: Psychological factors as another key in dementia therapy
This comprehensive meta-analysis highlights the important role that psychological factors, particularly personality traits, play in the context of dementia development and management. The results of the study underline the need to integrate these aspects into future, more personalized medical treatment approaches. They open up new perspectives for the development of constructive therapies that not only target physical symptoms, but also take into account the psychological constitution of the individual. This approach could help to significantly improve the well-being and quality of life of people with dementia.