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Strong-Willed People Have a Stronger Memory

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The husband of the Queen of England, Prince Philip, is known to be a blunt character with no interest in political correctness. As you can imagine, he's caused much embarrassment to the royal household through the years. Among his most colorful statements you’ll find these: To a teenager who wanted to go into space, Prince Philip reportedly said, "You're too fat to be an astronaut." Speaking to a driving instructor in Scotland he was said to exclaim, "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?" To a car park attendant who didn't recognize him, he reportedly muttered, "You bloody silly fool." No matter what you think of Prince Philip’s brash personality, there’s no disputing that his mind remains razor-sharp at the astounding age of 98. Could it be that his forthright nature is the reason? Let’s examine the latest research into personality and dementia risk…

This Could be the Early Warning Sign Urgently Needed

Almost all research into Alzheimer's focuses on biochemistry. But a new avenue of study examines whether certain personality characteristics make someone more or less prone to the condition. Professor Panteleimon Giannakopoulos, from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, explains why this could be a useful avenue to explore. "Between the destruction of the first neurons and the appearance of the first symptoms, ten to 12 years elapse. "For a long time, the brain is able to compensate by activating alternative networks. When the first clinical signs appear however, it is unfortunately often too late. The identification of early biomarkers is therefore essential for an effective disease management." To this end his research team assessed 65 men and women over the age of 65 at three points in time; at the beginning of the study, after 18 months, and then again at 54 months. At each point researchers gave these people brain scans, psychological evaluations and cognitive tests. The researchers also took into account age, gender, environmental and lifestyle factors, amyloid plaque load, and the presence of APOE4, the most prevalent genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's.

Smaller Volume Loss in the Less Agreeable

The study results revealed a surprise about people widely considered unpleasant or strong-willed because they do not back away from conflict and have a natural curiosity about the world as well as traits of non-conformity. These difficult personalities appear to have brains that are better protected against Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that less agreeable people experienced less volume loss in the hippocampus, entohinal cortex, amygdala, medial temporal lobe and precuneus -- all areas of the brain involved with memory that shrink with normal aging, and at an accelerated pace in Alzheimer's. What’s more, folks with a higher openness to new ideas and experiences had lower age-related volume loss in the left hippocampus. The scientists concluded, "These data suggest that the combination of low agreeableness and high openness is an independent predictor of better preservation of brain volume in areas vulnerable to neurodegeneration." These results will be published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging in May.

Be More Assertive for Memory Health

The findings surprised Prof. Giannakopoulos and begged new questions about a number of personality types and their impact on the development of Alzheimer’s. "A high level of agreeableness characterizes highly adaptive personalities, who want above all to be in line with the wishes of others, to avoid conflict, and to seek cooperation,” said Prof. Giannakopoulos. "This differs from extroversion. You can be very extroverted and not very pleasant, as are narcissistic personalities, for example. "The important determinant is the relationship to the other: do we adapt to others at our own expense?" The research team was less surprised by the memory protection offered by personality traits of curiosity and openness to new experiences, because a desire to learn and maintaining interest in the world around us is already known to offer protection against brain aging. Prof. Giannakopoulos admitted that the biological mechanisms behind the results of the study are still a mystery. Likewise unknown is their stability and how long their memory protection lasts. However, he hopes doctors will take into account an individual's personality, which is virtually unchangeable, when assessing a person’s risk of Alzheimer's.

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