Stress and Personality May Predict Dementia in Women

Dementia related to Alzheimers disease possibly driven by neurosis and long term stress

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A moody and high-stress lifestyle in midlife, particularly coupled with prolonged periods of distress, might do more than affect how a woman feels day-to-day. It could also play a part in the development Alzheimer's disease.

A nearly four decade study of women in Sweden found that women with stress-related traits who expressed feelings of anger, guilt or envy were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, a type of dementia, when compared to women without these traits.

Lena Johansson, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and colleagues followed 800 women for the 38-year study. The researchers tested the women’s neuroticism, personality type and stress levels.

"Most Alzheimer's research has been devoted to factors such as education, heart and blood risk factors, head trauma, family history and genetics," Dr. Johannsson said in a press statement. "Personality may influence the individual's risk for dementia through its effect on behavior, lifestyle or reactions to stress."

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. The degenerative cognitive disorder can eventually disrupt memory and thinking.

Neuroticism describes being easily distressed, prone to worrying, jealousy or moodiness. Personality types considered in this study were outgoing (extraversion) or shy (introversion).

Study participants also answered questions about periods of stress — irritability, tension, fear and anxiety — that lasted for a month or more.

Over the study period, 153 of the 800 women developed dementia, the loss of brain function marked by memory problems and difficulty doing day-to-day tasks. Alzheimer's disease was found in 104 of the 153 women with dementia.

Dr. Johansson and her team found that higher levels of neuroticism in midlife and long periods of stress were associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's dementia.

Participants who scored high on neuroticism and low on extraversion had the highest risk of Alzheimer's dementia.

“The results have clinical implications because a group of women at risk of [Alzheimer's] dementia is identified,” the authors wrote.

They wrote that the link might exist because “personality may influence the individual’s risk of dementia through its effect on behavior and lifestyle.”

For example, the authors suggested that people with low neuroticism scores more often have healthier lifestyles.

The researchers noted that their findings cannot be applied to men based on the women-only study group.

This study was published online Oct. 1 in Neurology.

The Swedish Medical Research Council, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, and several other public health organizations funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 1, 2014
Last Updated:
October 8, 2014