Some personalities predisposed to dementia risk

New research from Murdoch’s Centre for Healthy Ageing suggests certain personality traits are associated with developing dementia.


Dementia affects a person’s memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. It kills more Australians than any other disease, with the exception of coronary heart disease. As almost one in ten people over the age of 65 suffer from dementia, uncovering early warning signs is more important than ever.


Director of Murdoch University’s Centre for Healthy Ageing, Associate Professor Hamid Sohrabi is leading research to identify whether screening for at-risk dementia patients is possible based on certain personality traits.


Over a period of five years, Dr Sohrabi and his team studied 237 adults aged between 60 and 89 years that presented no cognitive or memory impairment. The study looked for bio-markers – like decreased glucose metabolism – in parts of the brain that are typically associated with memory function and susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease.


Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

“Interestingly, the results showed neuroticism, a personality trait associated with anxiety, depression and nervousness, as well as lower levels of extraversion and conscientiousness, were significantly associated with decreased glucose metabolism.”


“That is, our study suggests individuals with higher neurotic traits are at more risk of developing dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr Sohrabi.


Dr Sohrabi explained that while there were significant differences in brain functions between carriers and non-carriers of apolipoprotein E e4 allele, which is a major genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, they did not differ on personality factors.


Our findings have created a clear baseline to support further research into the underlying relationship between personality and dementia risk, so we can potentially identify those at risk much earlier.”

The next phase of the study will include measuring changes in other bio-markers of Alzheimer’s disease and how they correspond to personality traits and respond to psychological interventions.


“Often Alzheimer’s disease patients and their families report changes in patients’ personality characteristics and behaviour, although they are usually relying on behaviours that could be driven by the situation, and not personality factors,” said Dr Sohrabi.


“We hope that with longer-term observational studies, we can move to clinical trials to determine whether timely psychological interventions including cognitive behaviour therapy, aimed at addressing associated personality characteristics, can delay or partially prevent the onset of the cognitive impairment.”


28 June 2020.