There are over five million people in the United States today who are living with dementia and 50 million around the globe. By 2050, it’s predicted that nearly 14 million people in the U.S. will have dementia and 152 million worldwide.
A new study published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society looked at whether personality traits were associated with a risk of developing cognitive decline in aging. Previous studies have shown that certain personality traits are more common in pre-dementia syndromes, a precursor state to dementia. But it was not known whether these traits would increase risk of developing pre-dementia syndromes.
“In particular we studied two pre-dementia syndromes: Motoric Cognitive Risk syndrome (MCR) and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) as well as MCI subtypes (amnestic and non-amnestic MCI),” study author Emmeline Ayers told us. Ayers is a Principal Associate in the Integrated Divisions of Cognitive & Motor Aging and Geriatrics at the Department of Neurology, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “MCR is a recently described pre-dementia syndrome characterized by the presence of cognitive complaints and slow gait in non-demented older adults, and is associated with increased risk for dementia.”
MCI is diagnosed in individuals with subjective cognitive complaints without a dementia diagnosis or functional limitations who have impairments on neuropsychological tests. Participants were classified as amnestic MCI if they had impairments on tests of the memory domain or non-amnestic MCI if they had impairments on tests of non-memory domains.
“Previous studies have shown that higher levels of neuroticism can increase risk for cognitive impairment,” Ayers told us. “Lower levels of openness and conscientiousness have also been shown to be associated with increased risk for MCI and Alzheimer’s disease. We hypothesized that higher levels of openness and conscientiousness would be associated with lower risk of MCR and MCI, while higher levels of neuroticism would be associated with increased risk MCI and MCR.”
Previous studies have shown that certain personality traits are more common in pre-dementia syndromes, a precursor state to dementia. But it was not known whether these traits would increase risk of developing pre-dementia syndromes. Researchers conducted a longitudinal analysis to examine the effect of five personality traits on incident pre-dementia syndromes in a sample of 524 older adults living in the community over a median follow-up time of three years.
“Our results showed that openness was associated with reduced risk of MCR, while neuroticism was associated with increased risk for non-amnestic MCI,” Ayers told us. “None of the personality traits were associated with amnestic MCI.”
One interesting finding was that only people who scored in the highest third of the sample on openness were are at a reduced risk of developing MCR syndrome. Likewise, only people who scored in the highest third of the sample in neuroticism were at an increased risk of developing non-amnestic MCI. These findings indicate that patients who are on the high end of the neuroticism or openness spectrum are at the highest and lowest risk of developing non-amnestic MCI and MCR, respectively.
“These findings indicate that personality traits are markers of decline in specific areas of cognitive function, and may reflect distinct biological pathways in the transition from normal cognition to specific kinds of dementia,” Ayers told us. “From a clinical perspective, these findings emphasize the importance of accounting for aspects of personality when assessing for dementia risk.”
While more studies are needed, particularly those with more diverse samples, the results provide evidence that personality traits play an independent role in the risk for or protection against specific pre-dementia syndromes.
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com