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Mental Health

Staying calm under pressure can protect against Alzheimer’s

Study based on the personalities of almost 2,000 Americans tracked for up to 25 years

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Staying calm under pressure protects against Alzheimer's, according to new research from Canada.

Organized and self-disciplined people are less prone to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) - memory lapses that can lead to full-blown dementia, say scientists.

Young beautiful businesswoman meditates on the table in office
Stress can weaken vessels that carry oxygen to the brain. (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Age-related cognitive decline is more common among moody or emotionally unstable individuals.

Stress is known to raise blood pressure. This can weaken vessels that carry oxygen to the brain.

The study is based on the personalities of almost 2,000 Americans tracked for up to 25 years - focusing on three of the 'Big Five' traits.

Those ranked high on conscientiousness or low on neuroticism were much less likely to develop MCI over the period.

Lead author Tomiko Yoneda, a student at Victoria University in British Columbia, Canada, said: "Scoring approximately six more points on a conscientiousness scale ranging 0 to 48 was associated with a 22 percent decreased risk of transitioning from normal cognitive functioning to mild cognitive impairment.

"Additionally, scoring approximately seven more points on a neuroticism scale of 0 to 48 was associated with a 12 percent increased risk of transition."

No link was identified with extraversion. But participants who were outgoing and sociable also tended to maintain normal mental functioning longer.

It backs the theory that having a wide circle of friends boosts grey matter by keeping it active.

Conscientious people are responsible, hard-working and goal-directed. Neurotics are vulnerable to anxiety, depression, self-doubt and other negative thoughts.

via GIPHY

Extraverts like company - directing energies toward the outside world. They tend to be enthusiastic, gregarious, talkative and assertive, explained Ms. Yoneda.

For example, conscientious 80 year-olds were estimated to live nearly two years longer without MCI compared to peers who were not.

Peers high in extraversion enjoyed healthy cognition for about a year longer. Neurotics, on the other hand, enjoyed at least a year less.

It highlights the harms associated with the long-term experience of perceived stress and emotional instability, said Ms. Yoneda.

Additionally, those lower in neuroticism and higher in extraversion were more likely to recover mental health after a previous diagnosis of MCI.

These traits may be protective even after an individual starts to progress to dementia, said Ms. Yoneda.

The results could also be indicative of the benefits of social interaction for improving cognitive outcomes in the case of extraversion.

The number of dementia cases worldwide are expected to triple to more than 150 million by 2050.

With no cure in sight there is an increasing focus on behaviors that may ward off the devastating disease.

Ms. Yoneda said: "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.

"The accumulation of lifelong experiences may then contribute to the 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."

There was no association between any of the personality traits and total life expectancy.

Ms. Yoneda and colleagues analyzed data from 1,954 members of the Rush Memory and Aging Project - a longitudinal study of older adults living around Chicago.

They were recruited from retirement communities, church groups and subsidized senior housing facilities in 1997 - agreeing to character assessments.

The volunteers had received at least two annual cognitive checks - or one prior to death.

They were mostly white (87 percent, female (74 percent) and highly educated. Future research is needed on more diverse population samples.

It should also include the other two personality traits of agreeableness and openness to provide a broader understanding, said Ms. Yoneda.

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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