A recent study evaluated the role of personality traits in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The study investigated when personality changes occur and if personality traits exist because of the onset of the disease or have existed before onset and play a role in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Read more about the study, its outcomes and its implications for diagnosing the disease.
Research Finds Neurotic Traits Are Linked to an Increased Risk for Alzheimer’s
A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that certain personality traits may be linked to a higher risk for Alzheimer’s and suggests that these personality traits are not developed as a result of the disease, but are actually present before onset. Researchers set out to answer the question, “Do changes in personality traits occur before the onset of mild cognitive impairment or clinical dementia?”
The study titled, “Personality Change in the Preclinical Phase of Alzheimer’s Disease” involved researchers from Florida State University and the National Institute on Aging and followed 2,046 healthy older adults for an average of 12 years – some for as long as 36 years. 45.5% of the group was women, 54.5% were men. Over the course of the study, a little over 5% of the participants developed mild cognitive impairment, 12.5% developed dementia with 9.5% of that 12.5% being Alzheimer’s.
During the study, participants completed personality assessments on five distinct personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness. Researchers hypothesized that these traits would develop as a result of the early stages of the disease, revealing the disease years before a diagnosis could be made.
Studies Suggest Personality Traits Are Not a Result of Dementia
However, researchers found that while the people who went on to develop Alzheimer’s were those who scored higher on neuroticism and lower on agreeableness, conscientiousness and extraversion, there was no change in their personality. Those traits were present from the beginning of the study.
The same was true of the dementia group and the group that developed mild cognitive impairment. There was no substantial change in personality as the disease was diagnosed and progressed.
Because changes in behavior and personality are one criterion for diagnosing dementia it is important to realize that it may not be a reliable factor in determining an accurate diagnosis.
These results are supported by previous studies. A study published in 2014 in Neurology Online studied 800 women over the course of 38 years and found that women who tested as introverts and highly neurotic were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than other women in the study.
Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK at the time of the 2014 study, cautioned against taking a simplistic approach to the research, saying:
“Observational studies like this can be important for picking out health trends, but this type of research is not able to tell us about cause and effect. This long-term study adds to existing evidence linking stress to an increased risk of dementia, but more research is needed to understand the underlying reasons behind this link, as well as the impact of some of the personality traits highlighted here. There are many reasons for acting to reduce people’s stress levels, but controlled trials would be needed to know whether alleviating this type of stress could help prevent Alzheimer’s in later life. Understanding the factors that affect our risk of Alzheimer’s could provide new clues for preventing the disease, which is why investment in research is crucial.”
Have you noticed personality traits changing in a loved one after the onset of the disease? How do you feel about these traits impacting your risk for Alzheimer’s? Share your stories and thoughts with us in the comments below.