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Self-Discipline May Mitigate Alzheimer’s

ManA provocative report suggests individuals who are more conscientious are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Conscientiousness refers to a person’s tendency to control impulses and be goal-directed, and is also known as will, work and dependability, according to background information in the article.

Over a 12-year period, Rush University Medical School researchers studied 997 older Catholic nuns, priests and brothers who did not have dementia when the study began.

Conscientiousness was measured with a 12-item inventory, where participants rated agreement with each item (for example, “I am a productive person who always gets the job done”) on a scale of one to five.

The report is published in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Conscientiousness has been associated with a wide range of mental and physical disorders, disability and death, suggesting it may be important for maintaining overall health.

Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and colleagues initiated the study in which participants underwent evaluations that included medical history, neurologic examinations and cognitive testing.

On the 12-item inventory scores ranged from zero to 48, with higher scores indicating more conscientiousness. The researchers conducted follow-up examinations annually through 2006, with an average of 7.9 evaluations per person.

The participants had an average conscientiousness score of 34 out of 48.

Through a maximum of 12 years of follow-up, 176 individuals developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Those who had conscientiousness scores in the 90th percentile (40 points) or higher had an 89 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those whose scores ranked in the 10th percentile (28 points) or lower.

Controlling for known Alzheimer’s disease risk factors did not substantially change these results. Conscientiousness also was associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment, a condition that may precede Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also analyzed results from brain autopsies of 324 participants who died during the study. In these patients, conscientiousness was not linked to any of the hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease, including brain plaques and tangles. However, conscientiousness did appear to modify the association of these brain changes with an individual’s cognitive abilities before death.

There are several ways by which conscientiousness might protect against Alzheimer’s disease, the authors write. First, conscientious individuals may be more likely to experience educational or occupational success, both of which have been associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, conscientiousness has been linked to resilience and to coping actively with difficulties. “These factors might lessen the adverse consequences of negative life events and chronic psychological distress, which have been associated with risk of dementia in old age,” the authors note.

“In conclusion, level of conscientiousness is associated with incidence of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease but not with the pathologic hallmarks of these conditions,” they continue.

“Understanding the mechanisms linking conscientiousness to maintenance of cognition in old age may suggest novel strategies for delaying the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Source: American Medical Association (AMA)

Self-Discipline May Mitigate Alzheimer’s

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Self-Discipline May Mitigate Alzheimer’s. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2007/10/03/self-discipline-may-mitigate-alzheimers/1360.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.