People with neurosis now have one more thing to worry about with an Australian review finding neuroticism may increase the risk of dementia. But just as intense neuroticism upped dementia risk, the systematic review reported that looking out for your fellow man paid off, with conscientiousness conferring a protective effect.

While previous studies have suggested certain personality traits increased the risk of dementia, the research, published online in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, was the first comprehensive evaluation of the relationship. After analysing the results of 12 longitudinal and three case-control studies, the review found five of nine studies (involving over 3,000 people) that specifically looked at neuroticism and reported the personality trait was linked to greater dementia risk.

The researchers found that neuroticism increased risk for dementia, and conscientiousness reduced risk of dementia. The protective effect of openness was tentative. Extraversion and agreeableness were not associated with dementia. Personality should be incorporated in conceptual models of dementia risk. The authors concluded that clinicians and public health professionals should consider personality when planning dementia risk reduction strategies.


Lee-Fay Low et al. (2013). Does Personality Affect Risk for Dementia? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry Tranquil Personality May Reduce Dementia Risk (on-line ahead of publication)

A study a few years back also examined this issue of personality and dementia…

People with a peaceful personality who are also socially active may be somewhat protected against dementia as they age, whether they are extroverted or introverted. The study, conducted in Sweden and reported in the journal Neurology, measured and compared three traits in a group of 506 elderly people with an average age of 83. The three traits were extroversion (openness in talking to others), neuroticism (the level of distress, negativity and nervousness in one’s life) and social activity (the extent of interaction with others).

The subjects were followed for six years. In that period, 144 developed dementia. The study found that older people with an extroverted yet tranquil (non-neurotic) personality had a 49 percent lower risk of developing dementia than those who were extroverted and prone to being distressed.

But older people with a calm, relaxed personality who were at the same time socially inactive were also 49 percent less likely to develop dementia compared with seniors who were neurotic and socially inactive.

“In the past, studies have shown that chronic distress can affect parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, possibly leading to dementia, but our findings suggest that having a calm and outgoing personality in combination with a socially active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further,” said study author Hui-Xin Wang, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, according to an institute release.

“The good news is, lifestyle factors can be modified, as opposed to genetic factors, which cannot be controlled. But these are early results, so how exactly mental attitude influences risk for dementia is not clear,” said Wang.


Hui-Xin Wang. (2009). Personality and lifestyle in relation to dementia incidence. Neurology. 72:253-259.