Dementia: A Look at Behavior Patterns

Jul 23rd, 2009 | By | Category: Senior Moments Blog

The post today is written by Sharon Shaw Elrod, MSW, EdD.

A lot of studies describe the relationship between behavior patterns or traits and the incidence of dementia.  Such information is helpful to senior citizens in terms of understanding dementia, even though many of the studies do not draw a causal relationship.  That is, the studies do not suggest behavior patterns or traits described cause dementia.  They just say there is a correlation, a relationship that is yet to be fully understood.

One of those studies, published in 2008, show such a correlation.  Not a cause of dementia.  Just a relationship.  But it’s interesting to look at.

The study was published in The American Academy of Neurology online earlier this year.  The study was conducted through the Aging Research Center, Karolinska Institute (Stockholm), Stockholm Gerontology Research Center, and University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The researchers followed 506 seniors for an average of six years each.  None of the seniors had dementia when the study began, well, not diagnosed.  The commonly accepted theory about dementia is that people who are less stable and more anxious and jittery are at greater risk of dementia than those with an active and socially integrated lifestyle.  The aim of the study was to explore the separate and combined effects of neuroticism and extraversion on the risk of dementia, and to examine whether lifestyle factors have any effect on the risk.

Personality traits of the subjects were identified via the Eysenck Personality Inventory.  Eysenck initially conceptualized personality as two, biologically-based categories of temperament:  Extraversion/Introversion and Neuroticism/Stability.  Extraversion is described as being talkative, outgoing, feeling good and in need of external stimulation to manage the lack of internal stimulation.  Introverts are chronically over-aroused internally, in need of peace and quiet; they are ‘jittery’ and anxious.

Neuroticism is emotionality—high levels of depression and anxiety.  Emotionally stable people are calm and collected, even under pressure.

Eysenck’s personality inventory is a standardized instrument that measures these levels in subjects taking the test.  This link provides more information about the instrument:

The fascinating results of the study conducted in Sweden and reported earlier this year is this:  People with the lowest dementia risk have a combination of low neuroticism and high extraversion on the Eysenck.   Further, among socially isolated individuals, even low neuroticism alone shows a relationship with decreased dementia risk. 

Translated into more understandable language… We’re not talking about cause here.  We are talking about lifestyle and the incidence of dementia.  In a nutshell, people who have the least dementia risk are those with low neuroticism scores on the Eysenck.  These descriptors apply to that category of personality:  sociable, outgoing, talkative, responsive, easygoing, lively, carefree, leadership. 

We at SCJ believe this issue is worthy of further study and discussion.  Your comments are invited!

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