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Positive Thinking May Deter Dementia

Curiosity & Compassion Lowers Risk

Positive Thinking May Deter Dementia

By John Salak –

A brighter and more curious disposition may be more than just pleasant, it may help individuals lower their risk of being diagnosed with dementia. At least this is what a recent study published by the Alzheimer’s Association claims. 

The impact of positive thinking, among other personality traits, comes as important news for the growing legion of Americans who suffer from dementia. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention notes that more than six million people currently suffer from this diagnosis—a number that is expected to nearly triple by 2060.

The research, which pooled data from almost 45,000 people between the ages of 49 and 81, specifically found that people who were creative, curious and agreeable had the lowest risk. Those who were anxious, depressed and frequently experiencing distressing or negative emotions faced the highest risk. 

The study did not identify any links between a person’s personality and autopsy results that looked for physical signs of dementia in the brain and nervous system. This suggests that some people may be able to overcome dementia symptoms or compensate for them.

The team’s findings were built in part on psychological tests that included what are known as the “big five” personality traits. The big five focuses on five specific traits each person’s personality includes to varying degrees. These traits cover openness to experience, including intellectual curiosity; conscientiousness, which involves organization and responsibility; extroversion which touches on sociability; agreeableness, which includes tendencies toward compassion; and neuroticism or tendencies toward anxiety and depression.

Ultimately, researchers found that high scores on neuroticism and low scores on conscientiousness and extroversion were linked to an increased risk of being diagnosed with dementia. Conversely, people scoring high for openness or curiosity and agreeableness were less likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

Led by study author Emorie Beck, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, the team also examined how “subjective well-being” traits impacted the risk of developing dementia. These self-reported measures indicate how people experience and evaluate their own lives. They include three subjective measures that specifically touch on life satisfaction; positive affect or how frequently people experience positive emotions and moods; and negative affect or how frequently unpleasant and distressing emotions and moods surface. 

Again, even with subjective measures, people with high scores for negative affect were more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. Those scoring high for positive affect had a lower risk. 

It’s unclear whether individuals can simply try to become more agreeable in order to lower their risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s. However, the study’s summary explicitly notes that “personality is typically thought to be linked to dementia risk through behavior.” 

Beck went on to cite one example of behavior potentially affecting dementia risk can be seen in people who score high on conscientiousness. They are more likely to eat well and take care of their health, which could protect their long-term health and reduce the chances of developing cognitive disorders.  

 

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