The link between certain personality traits and mild cognitive impairment

The link between certain personality traits and mild cognitive impairment

People who are organised with high levels of self-discipline appear to be less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment as they age, a new study finds.

The research illuminates how being organised and disciplined could reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment in older age, whilst individuals who are moody or emotionally unstable are more likely to experience cognitive decline, according to research by American Psychological Association.

The research team focused on the role three of the so-called ‘big five’ personality traits, including conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion, play in mild cognitive impairment and functioning later in life.

“Personality traits reflect relatively enduring patterns of thinking and behaving, which may cumulatively affect engagement in healthy and unhealthy behaviours and thought patterns across the lifespan,” said lead author Tomiko Yoneda, PhD, of the University of Victoria. “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.”

The new research can be found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Personality traits and mild cognitive impairment

To understand the relationship between personality traits and mild cognitive impairment later in life, the researchers utilised data from 1,954 participants in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a longitudinal study of older adults living in the greater Chicago metropolitan region and north-eastern Illinois. Participants without a formal diagnosis of dementia were recruited from retirement communities, church groups, and subsidised senior housing facilities beginning in 1997 and continuing to the present.

The participants received a personality assessment and agreed to annual assessments of their cognitive abilities. The study included participants who had received at least two annual cognitive assessments or one assessment before death.

The researchers assessed the participants on how conscientiousness, neurotic and extraverted they were.

What did the research team find?

Participants who scored either high on conscientiousness or low in neuroticism were significantly less likely to progress from normal cognition to mild cognitive impairment throughout the study.

“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.”

However, they found no association between extraversion and the development of mild cognitive impairment, but they did discover that the participants scoring high in extraversion – along with those who scored either high on conscientiousness or low in neuroticism – tended to maintain normal cognitive functioning longer than others. There was no association between any of the personality traits and total life expectancy.

Yoneda noted that the findings are limited due to the primarily white (87%) and female (74%) makeup of the participants. Participants were also highly educated, with nearly 15 years of education on average. Future research is necessary on more diverse samples of older adults and should include the other two of the big five personality traits (agreeableness and openness) to be more generalisable and provide a broader understanding of the impact of personality traits on cognitive processes and mortality later in life, she said.

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