Negative Outlook May Prompt Dementia

Dementia was less common in older people with a positive view of others

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A person’s outlook on life and on other people can affect their mental and physical health.  A negative outlook may be linked to dementia, which is a bigger problem among older people than younger ones.

In a new study, cynical people in their 60s and 70s, who doubted that others’ motives were well-intentioned, were at higher risk for dementia than those who did not have the same suspicions.

"Try to put your trust in others."

Anna-Maija Tolppanen, PhD, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, Finland, was this study’s lead author.

Dr. Tolppanen and her research team based their study's conclusions on responses to a questionnaire aimed at measuring study participants’ levels of cynicism.

The participants consisted of 622 persons who, on average, were 71 years old. These participants lived in Finland and had been a part of the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia Study, beginning in 1997. The researchers traced the health status of these individuals until 2009.

In addition to the questionnaire, the 622 persons completed two tests to detect whether they had dementia over a period of roughly 10 years. Dementia’s symptoms include memory loss, noticeable changes in personality and difficulty with reasoning. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia.

To measure levels of cynicism, the participants indicated how much they agreed with a number of statements. These statements included: “I think most people would lie to get ahead;" “It is safer to trust nobody;” and “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it."

Based on participants' answers, the researchers concluded that 164 people of the 622 persons were highly cynical. Of those 164, 14 people developed dementia during the study period. By comparison, dementia developed in nine of the 212 people who were defined as having low levels of cynicism, the researchers found.

Those findings meant that those who were highly cynical were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism. Overall, 46 of the 622 persons developed dementia.

No one whose dementia might have been caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking or other risk factors for dementia was included among those whose dementia was linked solely to their cynicism.

Those who were more cynical tended to be retirees, smokers, men, less educated and more low-income, and they scored higher on standard tests for depression. Those who were more cynical also self-reported that they were in poorer health than those who were less cynical.

"We have a reasonable amount of data identifying medical risk factors for dementia, such as underlying cardiovascular disease and depression," Cindy D. Marshall, MD, Medical Director, Baylor Memory Center, Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, told dailyRx News. "What makes this study different is that it attempts to tease out the effects of a specific personality trait."

Dr. Marshall continued, "We also have to consider whether the risk is inherent to the cynicism or the effect of the cynicism. So are you at a higher risk of dementia because you view the world through a lens of distrust? Or because of this outlook do you become isolated, thus limiting your access to cognitive and social stimulation that may lower your risk?”

According to Dr. Tolppanen, “These results add to the evidence that people’s view on life and personality may have an impact on their health. Understanding how a personality trait like cynicism affects risk for dementia might provide us with important insights on how to reduce risks for dementia.”

"We acknowledge the need for larger replication studies," the researchers wrote.

This study was published May 28 in the Neurology.

The University of Eastern Finland, the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme, Swedish Society for Medical Research and Finnish National Graduate School of Clinical Investigation funded the study.

Several of the researchers reported that they had previously received research grants from those three institutions.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 2, 2014
Last Updated:
June 5, 2014