Being organised could help protect you from dementia, study claims

Being organised or extroverted could protect you from DEMENTIA… but being moody all the time may have the opposite effect, study suggests

  • Canadian, US and British researchers tracked 1,954 older adults in Chicago
  • More self-discipline gave an extra two years of cognitive impairment-free life
  • People who are more extraverted had an extra one year of unimpaired life 

Organised and self-disciplined people may be better protected against dementia later in life, a study claimed today. 

Extroverts may also have an extra year before they start developing mild cognitive impairment — the first steps towards dementia.

But the effects appear reversed for people of a moody disposition, according to the researchers. 

The project tracked nearly 2,000 older adults in Chicago for up to 25 years to see if their personality traits were linked to cognitive decline.

People who scored high in ‘conscientiousness’ — being organised and driven — lived nearly two years longer before seeing mental drops. 

Adults deemed extroverts — more talkative, assertive and emotionally expressive — also gained an extra year of sound cognition.

But volunteers with higher neuroticism scores — sadness, moodiness and emotional instability — began suffering mild cognitive impairment one year earlier.

Organised and self-disciplined people could be better protected against dementia in later years, a study claimed today

The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was observational so could not establish why personality may influence dementia risk.

But Dr Tomiko Yoneda, a psychologist at the University of Victoria, pointed to a wealth of previous evidence linking being more social with a lowered risk.


Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour. 

There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.


The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.

It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.

In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.

Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.


Currently there is no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.

Source: Alzheimer’s Society 

Mental stimulation is thought to be one of the biggest protectors of cognitive decline.  

The study also involved experts from the University of Edinburgh and Northwestern University in Illinois, the US.

They tracked 1,954 people — who were in their eighties on average — from 1997 until this year. 

Participants were given character assessments during in-person interviews. Some interviews were done over the phone if in-person conversations were not possible. 

They were given a score on a 48-point scale for each personality trait.  

Doctors asked to answer whether they fit specific statements, for example ‘I am a productive person who always gets the job done’, to assess how well they fit the trait. 

And they received at least two annual cognitive checks — or one prior to death — to assess for MCI. 

Those ranking higher for conscientiousness were 22 per cent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. 

People high in extraversion and low on neuroticism — characterised by sadness and emotional instability — were more likely to recover after being diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. 

This suggested the traits may help reverse progress towards dementia, researchers said. 

In contrast, people with seven points more on the neuroticism scale were 12 per more likely to see cognitive decline. 

The researchers did not, however, find any association between personality traits and lifespans. 

Dr Yoneda said: ‘Personality traits reflect relatively enduring patterns of thinking and behaving, which may cumulatively affect engagement in healthy and unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns across the lifespan.

‘The accumulation of lifelong experiences may then contribute to susceptibility of particular diseases or disorders, such as mild cognitive impairment, or contribute to individual differences in the ability to withstand age-related neurological changes.’ 

Experts said future research should focus on how cognitive impairment is related to the other two of the big five personality traits: agreeableness and openness.

Agreeableness is associated with showing signs of trust, kindness and affection. Openness describes the extent to which people show imagination and insight.

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders that impact memory, thinking and behaviour. 

Around 850,000 people in the UK are estimated to have the condition, according to the NHS. It affects 5.8million people in the US. 

Mild cognitive impairment is often a precursor to the memory-robbing condition, although not everyone with MCI goes on to develop the condition.

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