Stress and social isolation linked to dementia
People who are easily stressed and less outgoing may be more likely to develop dementia, research has suggested.
By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor
Last Updated: 3:27PM GMT 19 Jan 2009
Elderly people who are outgoing and not easily stressed may be less likely to develop dementia, researchers have suggested.
A study compared personality traits among 506 older people and followed them up for six years to find out how many went on to develop the disease.
They were given questionnaires about their temperament in order to determine how easily distressed and how open to other people they were.
After six years 144 of them had developed dementia.
Experts warned that the findings are difficult to interpret as a change in personality can be one of the first signs of dementia so rather than temperament increased the risk of developing the disease it may be an early indicator of symptoms.
The study, which is published in the journal Neurology, found that people who were not socially active but calm and relaxed had a 50 per cent lower risk of developing dementia compared with people who were isolated and prone to distress.
The dementia risk was also 50 per cent lower for people who were outgoing and calm compared to those who were outgoing and prone to distress.
Author Hui-Xin Wang, PhD, with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said: "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 calm and outgoing personality in combination with a socially active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further.
"The good news is, lifestyle factors can be modified as opposed to genetic factors which cannot be controlled. But these are early results, so how exactly mental attitude influences risk for dementia is not clear."
Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Doctors have always believed that personality traits are linked to risk of dementia. This compelling new evidence suggests people who are easily stressed or not very outgoing should make every effort to be socially active.
"However, it's a chicken and egg scenario; do these personality traits increase risk of dementia in older people or are they an early sign of the disease? One in three people over 65 will die with dementia. It is vital to keep mentally and physically active throughout your life to reduce risk of this devastating condition."