CHICAGO — A study of elderly people suggests that those who see themselves as self-disciplined, organized achievers have a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than people who are less conscientious.
A purposeful personality may somehow protect the brain, perhaps by increasing neural connections that can act as a reserve against mental decline, said study co-author Robert Wilson of Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center.
Surprising, the brains of some of the dutiful people in the study were examined after their deaths and were found to have lesions that would meet accepted criteria for Alzheimer’s — even though these people had shown no signs of dementia.
Previous studies have linked social connections and stimulating activities like working puzzles with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. The same researchers reported previously that people who experience more distress and worry about their lives are at a higher risk.
The new findings appear in Monday’s Archives of General Psychiatry.
When researchers took into account a combination of risk factors, including smoking, inactivity and limited social connections, they still found that the dutiful people had a 54 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s compared with people with the lowest scores for conscientiousness.
Could lower conscientiousness merely be an early sign of Alzheimer’s? The researchers think not. At the start of the study, the less conscientious people were no more likely to have lower mental abilities or more memory problems than the most dutiful people in the study.