THURSDAY, Oct. 17, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Could your personality as a teen forecast your risk for dementia a half-century later?
Very possibly, say researchers, who found that dementia risk is lower among seniors who were calm, mature and energetic high schoolers.
“Being calm and mature as teen were each associated with roughly a 10% reduction in adult dementia risk,” said study co-author Kelly Peters, principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C. “And vigor was associated with a 7% reduction.”
The finding has its origins in the 1960s, when more than 82,000 students in roughly 1,200 U.S. high schools took a personality test. More than 50 years later, their personality traits were compared to dementia diagnoses.
While Peters said there’s plenty of evidence that personality changes near the time of a dementia diagnosis, the lingering question has been whether personality or some aspects of it actually causes dementia.
“That’s the big question,” she said. “Is it only that personality can be affected by dementia? Is it just an expression of the disease?” By focusing on teens who didn’t later develop dementia, Peters said, “this study really starts to tease that out.”
At an average age of 16, the students were assessed for 10 traits: calmness, vigor, organization, self-confidence, maturity/responsibility, leadership, impulsivity, desire for social interaction, social sensitivity, and artistic and intellectual refinement.
By 2011-2013, when they were almost 70 years old, more than 2,500 had developed dementia.
Enter lead author Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester in New York.
After stacking 50-year-old personality profiles up against current medical records, he and his team found that the risk of dementia was notably lower among seniors who were calm, vigorous and mature as teens.
Calmness was defined as being stress-free and not neurotic; vigor as being energetic and outgoing; and maturity as being responsible, reliable and conscientious.
Peters said the findings could guide policy thinkers to develop improved social support systems “to help kids build up protective qualities.” But she highlighted some reservations.