Personality and positivity linked to greater cognition even as the brain ages

Your personality and the way you view the world and your life’s circumstances may play a big role in how well you maintain your cognitive functioning as you age, at least according to a new study from Northwestern University. The aging brain undergoes a number of changes over the years, eventually developing sticky plaques and tangles that interfere with cognition. However, the study found that people who had the right personalities and outlooks on life were better able to maintain their cognition even as their brains aged…something that was reversed in people who had negative outlooks on life.

A buildup of plaque in the brain, as well as the increase in ‘tangles,’ leads one down the path of dementia, eventually stealing one’s memories and ability to function. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are expected to become a major public health problem as modern lifestyles and medicine make it possible to live to more advanced ages, underscoring the need for research into treatments and preventative steps one can take to delay or stop this mental decline.

According to the new study, one’s personality and the way they choose to look at life may have a notable impact on the cognitive function decline experienced, with positivity linked to better cognitive function and negativity linked to worse-than-expected cognitive decline. The findings offer a new potential path for people to take that may help them maintain their cognitive function even as their brains naturally age.

The researchers describe the sustained cognitive function as greater resilience against brain changes like the formation of plaque. The study associated personality with these positive observations, namely that people who were more disciplined and organized, motivated, with high levels of achievement and diligence were more resilient against cognitive decline.

In comparison, the study found that people whose personalities were more neurotic than conscientious, including people who were often moody, worried, anxious, and impulsive, were more likely to experience a greater-than-expected decline in cognitive functioning based on the number of brain changes observed. Study lead author Eileen Graham explained:

These findings provide evidence that it is possible for older adults to live with the neuropathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias while maintaining relatively healthy levels of cognitive function … Our study shows personality traits are related to how well people are able to maintain their cognitive function in spite of developing neuropathology.

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