Personality change does not flag dementia

Findings provide evidence against the 'reverse causality' hypothesis
dementia man

US researchers have found no evidence to support the idea that dementia can be identified by changes in personality before the onset of cognitive impairment.

They followed a cohort of healthy adults for between 12 and 36 years but found that the trajectory of personality change among those who developed dementia was not significantly different to that of the other study participants.

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Ageing involved 2046 men and women with a mean age of 62 at baseline who self-reported personality traits including neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Over the period of follow-up, mild cognitive impairment was diagnosed in 104 participants and dementia in 255, including 194 with Alzheimer’s disease.

People who had higher scores for neuroticism and lower scores for conscientiousness and extraversion at the start of the study were more likely to be later diagnosed with dementia, the research showed.

But there was no evidence that such traits changed as onset of the disease approached.

“Tracking change in self-rated personality as an early indicator of dementia is unlikely to be fruitful, while a single assessment provides reliable information on the personality traits that increase resilience (eg, conscientiousness) or vulnerability (eg, neuroticism) to clinical dementia,” the authors wrote.

They said the study findings provided evidence against the ‘reverse causality’ hypothesis, which postulates that personality changes in response to the disease process.

Rather than an effect of Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology, traits such as neuroticism and conscientiousness appeared to confer risk for the development of the disease, they wrote.

You can access the study here.