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Possible Link Between Personality in High School and Dementia Risk

  • October 28, 2019
  • Older adults, Patients and Families

Can a person’s personality type in high school increase their risk of dementia late in life? A new study finds a connection between certain personality types and an increased risk of dementia later in life.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry in October 2019, looked at data on more than 80,000 participants in the Project Talent, a national sample of high school students in 1960, and Medicare data on dementia more than 50 years later, between 2011 and 2013. The study measured 10 personality types among the high schoolers: sociability, social sensitivity, impulsivity, leadership, vigor, calm, tidiness, culture, self-confidence, and maturity. The study also looked at demographic factors and socioeconomic status (a combination of parental education, income, occupation, housing and property ownership).

A group of people posing for the camera Description automatically generatedThe researchers, led by Benjamin Chapman, Ph.D., M.P.H., with the University of Rochester Medical Center, found an association between three personality types in adolescence—vigor, calm and maturity—and the risk for dementia around age 70.

They found a lower risk of dementia among those with a vigorous (an energetic disposition) personality type. This was true regardless of the individual’s socioeconomic status. Chapman and colleagues note that while socioeconomic status “may shape the specific type or content of one’s life activities, the beneficial nature of energetic enthusiasm appears to be constant across the socioeconomic status spectrum.”

Adolescents with calm (freedom from distressing emotions) and mature (responsible and reliable) personality types were also less likely to develop dementia, However, this was true only for teens whose families were of middle or high socioeconomic status. The relationship did not hold true for those of low socioeconomic status.

A picture containing tree, outdoor, road, person Description automatically generated

The authors conclude that personality type “maybe a true independent risk factor for dementia by age 70.”

This study, however, only looks at one of many possible risk or protective factors for dementia. There is much evidence identifying other factors—some we have no control over, and others we can manage. The biggest risk factor is age – the older you get, the greater your risk.

Dementia affects one in 14 adults over age 65 and one in six over age 80. Genetics also play a role – having a parent or sibling with dementia increases your risk. Having certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes increases your risk. There are also lifestyle factors that affect your risk of dementia. Regular exercise, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy diet can all reduce the risk of dementia. Learn more about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.


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