Conscience Curbs Alzheimer's?
Study: Highly Conscientious People May Be Less Likely to Develop Alzheimer's Disease
Oct. 1, 2007 -- The odds of developing Alzheimer's disease may be better for
people who consider themselves highly conscientious.
So say researchers including Robert Wilson, PhD, of Chicago's Rush
They aren't blaming Alzheimer's disease on a lack of conscientiousness, and
they're not promising that a clean conscience prevents Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists don't know exactly what causes Alzheimer's disease, which is the
most common form of dementia in older adults.
But conscientiousness deserves more attention from Alzheimer's researchers,
Wilson's team notes.
Wilson and colleagues studied nearly 1,000 older U.S. Catholic nuns,
priests, and brothers from 1994 to 2006.
In 1994, none of the participants had dementia. They completed
questionnaires about their personality, medical history, physical activity,
cognitive activities (such as reading a newspaper), and other factors.
In the personality survey, participants rated how much they agreed or
disagreed with statements about their self-discipline, scruples, and sense of
purpose, such as "I am a productive person who always gets the job
Based on the survey results, Wilson's team calculated each participant's
conscientiousness score. Higher scores indicate higher levels of self-reported
Participants' conscientiousness scores ranged from a low of 11 to a high of
47 (average score: 34). Those scores are normal in the general public,
according to Wilson's team.
Conscience and Alzheimer's Disease
During the 12-year study, participants got annual checkups and took tests of
their cognitive skills, including memory.
Participants with high conscientiousness scores were less likely to develop
Alzheimer's disease during the study, compared with those with low
That result held when the researchers considered participants' age, physical
activity, mental activity (such as reading newspapers), personality, and other
Highly conscientious participants were also less likely than the least
conscientious participants to develop milder cognitive problems (such as memory
glitches) that may lead to Alzheimer's.
Wilson's team performed autopsies on most of the participants who died
during the study. Those autopsies showed no link between participants'
conscientiousness scores at the study's start and their chances of having brain
plaque or tangles when they died.
Wilson and colleagues call for more research to see if the findings apply to
other groups of people and how conscientiousness might help save the brain.