Protein buildups may be predictive of dementia severity, but personality traits may say more about one’s cognitive resilience–which denotes one’s ability to counter act the effects of neurological trauma.
It’s important to remember that dementia isn’t a single disease but an umbrella term meant to describe symptoms and signs related to several brain diseases or injuries.
In a new study conducted at Northwestern Medicine, researchers determined that dementia patients who are self-disciplined, organized, diligent, demonstrate high achievement, and possess higher conscientiousness are able to cope with the neuropathies associated with cognitive decline significantly better than those who are not. These traits belong to the Big Five personality traits.
This cohort was able to maintain daily functions even as their condition advanced.
Conversely, higher neuroticism, a higher tendency towards anxiety, worrying, moodiness, and impulsivity were all linked to less manageable bouts of dementia.
“Dementia describes the gradual deterioration of intellectual abilities and behavior that eventually interferes with customary daily living activities, including balancing the checkbook, keeping house, driving your car, involvement in social activities, and working. This may also include changes in personality and emotions,” North-Western Medicine reports. “Dementia influences all aspects of mind and behavior, including memory, judgment, language, concentration, visual perception, temperament and social interactions. Although dementia symptoms are eventually obvious to everyone, in the early stages special evaluations are necessary to demonstrate the abnormalities.”
The findings were collected at Rush University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
Participating subjects were tasked with completing annual psychosocial self-repored surveys alongside administered clinical data. Some of these even pledged to donate their brains for post-mortem analysis.
“We regressed cognition onto pathology and extracted the residuals as an indicator of cognitive resilience. We then modeled the effect of Big Five personality traits on cognitive resilience, adjusting for demographics, APOE status, medical comorbidities, and cognitive activity. The analytic plan was preregistered prior to data access or analysis, and all scripts and outputs are available online,” the authors continued. “Personality may have a patio plastic effect on neuropathology, as low neuroticism and high conscientiousness are associated with better function despite neuropathologic burden.”
Consistently, a healthy, self-assured outlook was associated with increased cognitive function into old age. This is true even among those experiencing progressive dementia symptoms.
This is the first study to confirm mood’s correlative relationship with cognitive disease incidence.
The authors intend to conduct more research in order to uncover the relevant mechanisms.
“These findings provide evidence that it is possible for older adults to live with the neuropathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias while maintaining relatively healthy levels of cognitive function,” said lead study author Eileen Graham, a research assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a media release.
“Our study shows personality traits are related to how well people are able to maintain their cognitive function in spite of developing neuropathology. Since it is possible for personality to change, both volitionally and through interventions, it’s possible that personality could be used to identify those who are at risk and implement early interventions to help optimize function throughout old age.”