Alzheimer’s disease, the main cause of dementia in the elderly, is a neurodegenerative disease caused by the irreversible destruction of neuronal networks in certain brain structures affecting memory.
While some risk factors are known, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, the potential role of non-biological factors begins to be discovered.
In a recent study from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and elsewhere, researchers found that certain personality traits protect brain structures against neuro-degeneration.
They found people who are less agreeable but with a natural curiosity and little conformism show better preservation of the brain regions that tend to lose volume, both in normal aging and in Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings highlight the importance of taking personality into account in neuropsychiatric disorders and pave the way for more precise prevention strategies against Alzheimer’s disease.
The study is published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. One author is Professor Panteleimon Giannakopoulos, a psychiatrist at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine.
In the study, the team recruited a large cohort of people over 65 years of age in a longitudinal study.
Various methodologies were used, including functional and structural brain imaging, to assess amyloid accumulation and brain volume.
Atrophy of certain brain regions is indeed one of the major features preceding memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
The results are surprising: people who are unpleasant, who are not afraid of conflicts, and who show a certain anti-conformity have better-protected brains.
In addition, this protection takes place precisely in the memory circuits that are damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.
The team says a high level of agreeableness characterizes highly adaptive personalities, who want above all to be in line with the wishes of others, to avoid conflict, and to seek cooperation.
This differs from extraversion. You can be very extroverted and not very pleasant, as are narcissistic personalities, for example.
Another personality trait seems to have a protective effect, but in a less clear-cut way: openness to experience.
This is in line with previous findings that the desire to learn and interest in the world around us protects against cerebral aging.
The team says it seems difficult to profoundly change one’s personality, especially at an advanced age.
Therefore, taking this into account in a personalized medicine perspective is essential in order to weigh up all the protective and risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease.
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