Does your personality affect risk of memory problems?

03 June 2020

Research from the US suggests that people with a more open personality are at reduced risk of developing mild memory and thinking problems while those with higher levels of neuroticism are at increased risk.

The research was published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, today (Wednesday 3 June).

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Mild Cognitive impairment, or MCI as it’s often called is a term used to describe early memory and thinking problems in older people. While it is not a type of dementia many people with MCI experience difficulties that are greater than expected for their age. However, unlike dementia, these difficulties tend not to get in the way of a person’s day-to-day life.

You can read more about MCI on our website, or you can ring the Dementia Research Infoline on 0300 111 5111.

Who did the researchers study?

The researchers looked at 524 over the age of 65 people who did not have dementia. They determined people’s personalities using five personality traits; neuroticism, extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness. The scientists then followed these people to see how many went on to develop early stage memory problems.

Over an average follow up of three years, they found 69 people developed MCI and 38 people developed motoric cognitive risk (MCR), a condition characterised by the presence of gait disturbances and early-stage memory problems.

What did the researchers find?

The New York-based research team found that people with a more open personality were less likely to develop MCR within the follow up time. Those with a more anxious personality type and classed as neurotic were more likely to develop MCI.

The other personality traits were not associated with early stage memory problems. The personality traits did not predict the 26 people in the study who did go on to develop dementia.

What our expert said:

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Understanding early stage memory problems is important. Although they do not generally affect activities of daily life mild cognitive impairment can precede dementia.

“While observational studies like this can be important for picking out health trends, this type of research is not able to tell us about cause and effect. This study adds to existing evidence of a potential link between personality types and cognitive decline, but we don’t yet understand the underlying reasons behind this link.

“The risk of developing memory problems is complex and is not down to your personality alone but is likely to be a mix of age, genetics and lifestyle factors. There is no sure-fire way to prevent MCI, and research like this is underway to learn more about why some people are at more risk than others.

“The best current evidence indicates that staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking within the recommended guidelines moderation and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support healthy brain ageing.”