Women who are anxious, jealous, or moody in middle age may be at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease later in life, the Swedish study focused on determining if personality traits had any influence on the development of dementia.
“Most Alzheimer’s research has been devoted to factors such as education, heart and blood risk factors, head trauma, family history and genetics,” study co-author Lena Johannsson, PhD, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden, said in a university news release. “Personality may influence the individual’s risk for dementia through its effects on behavior, lifestyle or reactions to stress,” she added.
For the study, researchers followed a sampling of 800 women with an average age of 46 for 38 years. Study participants were administered memory tests along with personality tests that measured their levels of neuroticism, which manifests such personality traits as being easily distressed or prone to worrying, jealousy or moodiness. The researchers also tested for extraversion (outgoingness), and introversion (shyness).
The women in the study were also asked if they had experienced periods of stress that lasted a month or longer in their work, health or family situations. Stress was defined as feelings of irritability, tension, nervousness, fear, anxiety or interrupted sleep.
The researchers reported that women who scored highest on the tests for neuroticism were at double the risk for developing dementia compared to those who scored lowest on the tests. The higher risk, however, was linked to long-standing stress.
Johannsson and her colleagues also found that being introverted or extraverted did not appear to affect the risk for dementia. However, women who were easily distressed and who were introverted or withdrawn had the highest risk for Alzheimer’s. Their findings showed that 25 percent of the women in this group developed the disease, compared to 13 percent of the women who were extraverted and not easily distressed.
The study authors suggested that although their research focused on women, the results would be the same for men. And while the investigators acknowledged that their research does not prove that these personality traits cause Alzheimer’s disease, they said it identifies a risk factor that can be remedied.
“If we can identify things that are addressable in midlife, then we may be able to subsequently reduce the risk of bad outcomes later in life,” senior study author Ingmar Skoog, MD, PhD, a professor and chief physician at the University of Gothenburg, told Reuters.
“Now you have this thing, if you have high neuroticism scores, you can try to do something about it,” added Skoog. “I think that’s the take-home message for this [study].”