Your personality as a teenager may affect your risk of developing dementia later on in life. The results of a long term study beginning in the 1960’s have just been released showing correlations between certain personality traits and later-onset of dementia.
Over 50 years ago, researchers asked over 82,000 students across around 1,200 US high schools to take personality tests for ten traits: calmness, vigor, organization, self-confidence, maturity and responsibility, leadership, impulsivity, desire for social interaction, social sensitivity, and artistic and intellectual refinement (Chapman: 2019).
These personality traits were then correlated with the incidence of each student developing dementia later on in life. Now at around 70 years old, and with over 2,500 of them having developed dementia, researchers have found some correlations between one’s personality traits as a teen, and their risk of developing dementia.
According to co-author of the study, Kelly Peters, “Being calm and mature as teens were each associated with roughly a 10% reduction in adult dementia risk...and vigor was associated with a 7% reduction (Mozes: 2019).”
Although Peters hopes that the findings could help guide policy makers to develop improved social support systems to enable children to develop personality traits protective of dementia, any recommendations may be limited in scope.
Heather Snyder, the vice president of medical science relations at the Alzheimer’s Association said, “There is not enough evidence at this time to suggest that an intervention strategy for personality type in high school would be effective (ibid.).”
Dr. Anton Porsteinsson, the director of the University of Rochester’s Alzheimer’s Disease Care, Research and Education Program, added, “We don't necessarily want all kids to be calm and composed at all times. We don't want everyone to fit into the same mold...so we have to be very careful about how we interpret these findings until we really understand a lot more about what this is all really about.”
Beyond this, the researchers have noted that the study has some limitations. For example, while calmness, vigor and maturity may have helped those in reasonable socio-economic standing, for those in relatively poor households, these traits appeared to have little to no effect. Furthermore, the study only tracked the onset of dementia by age 70.
Although this may indicate that these personality factors may lead to the early onset of dementia, as most cases of the disease begin when a person enters their 80’s, researchers suggest that this comparison is repeated again in 10 to 15 years to have more conclusive results (ibid.).
Chapman, Benjamin P.: JAMA Network
Mozes, Alan: Web MD