WASHINGTON, D.C.: Women who are anxious, jealous or moody and distressed in middle age are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life, according to a new study.
The study, published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, followed 800 women with an average age of 46 for 38 years. During the study period, 19 percent developed dementia.
All the research participants underwent personality tests that looked at their level of neuroticism and extroversion or introversion, along with memory tests.
According to the study, neuroticism involves being easily distressed and personality traits such as worrying, jealousy or moodiness. People who are neurotic are more likely to express anger, guilt, envy, anxiety or depression. Introversion is described as shyness and reserve and extroversion is associated with being outgoing.
The women were also asked if they had experienced any period of stress, such as feelings of irritability, tension, nervousness, fear, anxiety or sleep disturbances, that lasted one month or longer in their work, health or family situation.
Responses were categorized as zero to five, with zero representing never experiencing any period of stress, to five, experiencing constant stress during the last five years. Women who chose responses from three and five were considered to have distress.
Those who scored highest on the tests for neuroticism had double the risk of developing dementia compared to those who scored lowest on the tests, said the study, but adding that the link depended on long-standing stress.
Being either withdrawn or outgoing did not appear to raise dementia risk alone. But women who were both easily distressed and withdrawn had the highest risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A total of 16 of the 63 women, or 25 percent, who were easily distressed and withdrawn developed Alzheimer’s disease, compared to eight out of the 64 people, or 13 percent, of those who were not easily distressed and were outgoing.
“Most Alzheimer’s research has been devoted to factors such as education, heart and blood risk factors, head trauma, family history and genetics,” study author Lena Johannsson of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden said in a statement.
But the new study confirmed that “personality may influence the individual’s risk for dementia through its effect on behavior, lifestyle or reactions to stress,” Johannsson said.