A group of researchers from the University of Geneva, Switzerland published a study in Neurobiology and Aging which links a high level of agreeableness in the elderly to Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease in which destruction of neural networks lead to loss of memory and other cognitive abilities which may grow severe enough to obstruct execution of mundane tasks. It is a progressive disease in which symptoms tend to get worse over time and may become severe enough to interfere with daily life.
The very first symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty recalling newly learned information. As the disease begins affecting larger areas of the brain more severe symptoms manifest in the individual such as disorientation, behavior changes, mood swings and confusions particularly about time, event and places. As the disease advances it may cause problems swallowing, speaking and walking as well.
Autopsy studies suggest the presence of two abnormal structures in the brain; Plaques and Tau. Plaques are deposits of a protein structure called Beta-Amyloid in the spaces between neurons. Tau is another protein that presents as twisted fibers which accumulate within the cells.
An excessive build-up of these proteins leads to impaired brain function. At present, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and treatments mostly focus on alleviating symptoms of the disease. Research to devise an effective therapeutic vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s has been underway for decades.
Now scientists are beginning to focus on another approach to combat the disease by considering psychological factors. With this in mind, Swiss researchers examined structural and functional brain imaging of a large group of people above the age of 65 over a period of 5 years. Cognitive and Personality assessments of the participants were performed to discover a link between brain damage and psychological factors.
Research’s findings suggest that people who could be categorized as unpleasant possess better protected neural circuits. While people who are highly agreeable, shy away from conflict and possess an inclination to conformity are more prone to Alzheimer’s disease.
People who have a strong set of opinions and are not afraid to defend their views are more mentally resilient. In light of this study, it can be concluded that individualism results in better preserved cognitive functions and may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.
The study also pointed towards another personality trait that causes better mental health and that is openness to new experiences. People who tend to go out of their comfort zones more to learn and grow by experiencing something new are more protected from neurodegenerative disease.
Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease which not only erodes a person’s lifestyle but also takes a heavy toll on caregivers and families. Strong personality traits help protect against the onset of this crippling disease.
Non-conformity is associated with a quiet sense of confidence in one’s abilities and courage to stand your ground when your opinions are challenged. These personality traits not only make an individual immune to depression but also preserve crucial neural activity.
Agreeableness on the other hand may be attributed to an individual’s great need to adapt and avoid conflict often at their own expense. Excessive pleasantness and a deep rooted desire to please others can chip away one’s sense of confidence and self-preservation. Now in view of this recent study they can also have a devastating effect on our cognitive ability.
Therefore it is best to strike the right balance between being pleasant and being firm in your values. Being nice to others should not come at the cost of a loss of one’s sense of self-respect. Standing your ground when values central to your existence are challenged may not be such a bad thing after all.