People who are active, outgoing, and relaxed may be less likely to develop dementia, according to a new study from Karolinska Institutet. The results, published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, are based on questionnaires about lifestyle, personality, and medical examination follow ups during a 6-year period.
The study involves 506 people, 78 years or older, who did not have dementia when first examined. The group was given questionnaires about their personality traits and lifestyle. The personality questions identify individuals prone to distress (neuroticism) and need for stimulation (extraversion). Those prone to distress were more likely to be emotionally unstable, negative, easily nervous or upset, and have a fight-or-flight response to minor problems. In contrast, the relaxed individuals were calm and self-satisfied, and the outgoing people were sociable, active, and optimistic.

The lifestyle questionnaire determined whether each person had a rich social network and regularly participated in leisure or organizational activities. Participants were followed for 6 years. During that time, 144 developed dementia.

The study found that people who were socially isolated or inactive but relaxed had a 50% lower risk of developing dementia compared with people who were isolated and prone to distress. The dementia risk was also 50% lower for people who were outgoing and relaxed compared to those who were outgoing but prone to distress.

"In the past, studies have shown that chronic distress can affect parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, possibly leading to dementia, but our findings suggest that having a relaxed and outgoing personality in combination with an active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further," says study leader Hui-Xin Wang, PhD, of the Aging Research Centre in Stockholm, Sweden.

"The good news is, lifestyle factors can be modified, as opposed to genetic factors which cannot be controlled." Wang says. "But these are early results, so how exactly mental attitude influences risk for dementia is not clear."

It is estimated that approx 160,000 Swedes suffers from some form of memory disorder or dementia. There are several different dementia diagnoses, with Alzheimer’s disease the most common. As the populations of the world grow older, it is expected that the problem with dementia will increase.

The published study was supported by the Alzheimer Foundation Sweden, Swedish Brain Power, Gamla Tjänarinnor Foundation, Fredrik and Ingrid Thurings Foundation, the Foundation for Geriatric Diseases, Loo and Hans Osterman Foundation for Geriatric Research, and the Centre for Health Care Science at Karolinska Institutet.

H-X Wang, A Karp, A.Herlitz, M Crowe, I Kåreholt, B Winblad, L Fratiglioni
Personality and lifestyle in relation to dementia incidence
Neurology, 20 January 2009

[Source: Karolinska Institutet]