Buildup of amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles in the brain is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. A new study reveals that being neurotic or conscientious can, respectively, increase or decrease the chances of developing these accumulations. It is not known, however, whether this association is the result of the lifestyles that characterize these personality types.
Previous research has already found that certain personality traits are risk factors for the disease Alzheimer’s and related dementias. However, scientists have not been able to find a causal link.
The development of amyloid plaques and insoluble tau protein tangles in the brain is also associated with the disease and related dementias. This new study now explores a possible link between personality traits and these health problems. The study reveals that neuroses increase the likelihood of developing amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Conversely, being conscientious reduces the likelihood of developing them.
Researchers from the Department of Geriatrics at Florida State University had already carried out studies showing who is at risk of developing dementia. Here, the researchers were interested in neuropathology, that is, brain damage that tells us about the underlying pathological change. The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Neuroticism and conscientiousness
Neuroticism and the manic or conscientious side are two of the “five big” personality traits often cited by researchers and mental health experts. These traits appear early in life and, as the study says, “have a broad impact on important life outcomes.
The Top 5 Character Traits
It is about:
– Conscientiousness: It is about a person responsible, prudent and directed towards the objectives and the details.
– Agreeableness: Describes a person who is respectful, compassionate, confident and tries to avoid problems.
– Neuroticism: Describes a person who revolves around destabilizing emotions, such as anxiety and depression.
– Openness: Describes a person who is open to new experiences and curious about the world.
– Extraversion : Describes a person who seeks excitement, who is active and very sociable.
Two analyses, a pair of conclusions
The authors of the study carried out two surveys involving more than 3 000 attendees. The first analyzed data from people participating in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), an ongoing study of community-dwelling adults. Participants completed a questionnaire of 240 questions based on the Revised Personality Inventory test to identify their dominant traits among the Big 5. One year after the questionnaire, the absence or presence of amyloid plaques and tau proteins in their brains was assessed by PET scan. The second was a meta-analysis of 12 studies investigating associations between the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease and personality traits.
What the analyzes revealed
The BLSA-based study and meta-analysis came to the same conclusion: People with a high neuroticism score or low in consciousness were more likely to have developed amyloid plaques and tau tangles. People with a high conscientiousness or low neuroticism score were less likely to have them.
Research had previously looked at other personality traits, such as openness and extraversion, in relation to dementia, but neuroticism and conscientiousness have the strongest link, according to recent meta-analyses. The researchers also found that the association between these personality traits and pathology was strongest in people who were cognitively normal at the time of assessment in the BLSA study or the studies included in the meta-analysis. This suggests that personality type may be a risk factor prior to the emergence of amyloid and tau.
The reverse does not appear to be true. The researchers note, “These trends suggest that the associations are not emergent phenomena due to personality change with disease progression, as one would expect with reverse causation.
A causal link?
Since this study is observational, it is difficult to say with certainty what the mechanisms, and further research is needed.
A potential avenue of explanation would be inflammation, which is associated with personality and the development biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. Lifestyle is another potential pathway. For example, highly conscientious people have been shown to have a healthier lifestyle: in terms of physical activity, smoking, sleep, depression, cognitive stimulation, etc. There is a strong body of research linking lifestyle, dementia risk, and biomarkers.
Aspects of neuroticism and conscientiousness may have a direct impact on dementia risk. Traits like neuroticism shape our emotional life, the way we deal with stress and deal with our feelings. Conscientiousness is defined by our level of grit, persistence, and planning attitude.
Personality associations with amyloid and tau: Results from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging and meta-analysis.
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