Study finds certain personality traits linked to cognitive decline later in life

STATEN ISLAND, NY — A new study found certain personality traits are linked to mild cognitive decline later in life.

The research, published Monday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, focused on three major personality traits — conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion — and analyzed how they affect people’s ability to stave off mental decline.

“Personality traits reflect relatively enduring patterns of thinking and behaving, which may cumulatively affect engagement in healthy and unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns across the lifespan,” lead author Dr. Tomiko Yoneda, of the University of Victoria in Canada, said in a statement. “The accumulation of lifelong experiences may then contribute to susceptibility of particular diseases or disorders, such as mild cognitive impairment, or contribute to individual differences in the ability to withstand age-related neurological changes.”

Scientists parsed through the data of nearly 2,000 participants to assess the relationship between personality traits and cognitive impairment. People included in the study did not have a dementia diagnosis and were recruited beginning in 1997.

Using cognitive assessments, the study assessed the prevalence of three major personality traits.

Those who score high in conscientiousness are often responsible, organized and goal-oriented while people who score high on neuroticism have less emotional stability and more frequent mood swings and anxiety. Extroverts, meanwhile, tend to be enthusiastic and talkative.

The study found people who either scored high on the conscientiousness scale or low in neuroticism were less likely to progress to mild cognitive impairment.

“Scoring approximately six more points on a conscientiousness scale ranging 0 to 48 was associated with a 22% decreased risk of transitioning from normal cognitive functioning to mild cognitive impairment,” said Yoneda. “Additionally, scoring approximately seven more points on a neuroticism scale of 0 to 48 was associated with a 12% increased risk of transition.”

An 80-year old patient who scored high in a conscientious score, for example, were estimated to live nearly two years longer without cognitive impairment, added Yoneda. Those with high levels of neuroticism, on the other hand, saw at least one less year of healthy cognitive function.

Previous studies detailed how those who are more conscientious and less neurotic were better able to maintain cognitive function.

Researchers said there was no association between extraversion and the development of cognitive impairment in the latest study. There was also no connection between any of the traits and overall life expectancy.

Yoneda said a more diverse study population is needed to gather a broader understanding of the impact personality traits have on cognitive processing later in life.

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