Being anxious, stressed and introverted, may well increase the risk of future dementia, according to a recent study. Researchers have recently found that more relaxed, social individuals, develop dementia less often when elderly, than their stressed-out, antisocial counterparts.
To be easily distressed (neuroticism), is an extremely common trait, and of course many people have little desire, or motivation, to socialize. Taken together, or individually (for neuroticism in particular), these two traits translated to a marked increase in resulting dementia, in the 506 individuals surveyed and monitored during the current study.
These 506 participants were already elderly at the commencement of the study, but none possessed diagnosed dementia. Each individual was thoroughly surveyed concerning lifestyle, personality and social habits. The questions, while extensive, focused on two major categories; neuroticism and introversion (said to be characterized by being “reserved and introspective”). The opposite of neuroticism, which was diagnosed as being most harmful for the aging brain, is most generally being uneasily phased and generally relaxed. The opposite of an introvert is of course and extrovert, who is most often social and outgoing.
Over the six years of the study, 144 of the participants developed some form of dementia. Taken separately, it was found that relaxed individuals (though still allowed to be introverted), were approximately 50% less likely to develop dementia than neurotic individuals. Similarly, extroverted individuals, if also relaxed, were 50% less likely to develop dementia, than extroverts demonstrating neuroticism. It’s noted that extroverts were much more likely to have calm personalities than introverts, though this was far from a universal conclusion.
This study is not definitive, but it does identify a potentially natural preventative treatment for dementia; lifestyle change. While the ancient saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” may hold a lot of sway here, in that introverted, neurotic elderly individuals aren’t likely to one day hit the dance floor in their quest for a happy-go-lucky life, making small changes could be very effective. And the results likely extend to younger individuals as well, strongly suggesting that in common stressful situations, such as in the workplace, it is best to stay as calm as possible.
Put slightly more medically, “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,” says Dr. Hui-Xin Wang. This is one of the first studies to suggest that a large part of prevention for dementia resides in personal lifestyle choices.
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Wang, Hui-Xin. Seroka, Rachel. Neurology news release. January 2009.