High School Personality Traits Could Be Strong Predictor of Later Dementia Risk

The personality of a teenager may be a strong predictor of their dementia risk, later in life.  This is the suggestion from a new study that analyzed a 150-item personality inventory taken by a national sample of teenagers during the 1960s.  The survey observed character traits like calmness, conscientiousness, empathy, maturity, self-confidence, and sociability, among others.  Researchers then compared these traits with the scores of more than 82,000 tests against Medicare data on dementia diagnoses between 2011 and 2013.

The study seems to conclude that high extroversion, a lively personality, calmness, and maturity, were all associated with a lower risk of dementia within, on average, the following 54 years.  However, it should be noted that the association did not appear among those students with lower economic status. 

Surely, calmness and maturity have long been linked with lower levels of stress, so this might explain the association, at least in part.  Lead study author Benjamin P. Chapman explains that the study was not designed to specifically find a causal link. 

The University of Rochester associate professor of psychiatry goes on to say, “Most likely these traits lead to all kinds of other things over 50 years that culminate in a diagnosis of dementia. We tried to rule out as many other factors as possible, but our findings are suggestive, and we don’t want to draw strong conclusions about causation.”

On top of this, Study co-author Kelly Peters adds, “Certain personality traits may serve as protective factors against later life dementia risk.” 

The American Institutes for Research principal psychometrician continues, “These results suggest a role for personality in life course models of dementia, and highlight the importance of considering early life characteristics when evaluating dementia risk in older adults.”

Peters concludes, though, that even with the excitement generated by the results of this study—the relationship between adolescent personality and dementia later in life—the condition is complex.  Indeed, the study only shows a link but there are still many more questions to answer; at least this provides a strong foundation to begin searching for more of these answers.