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Dementia Rarer in Calm, Outgoing People

Study: Dementia Risk May Be Lower in Older Adults Who Handle Stress Well and Have a Rich Social Network
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 20, 2009 -- Developing dementia may be almost half as likely in older adults who are calm and enjoy socializing as in their peers who are stressed and isolated.

That news comes from a Swedish study published in the Jan. 20 edition of Neurology.

"Our findings suggest that having a calm and outgoing personality in combination with a socially active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia," Hui-Xin Wang, PhD, says in a news release. Wang works at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

Wang's study included 506 older adults (average age: 83) in Sweden. They didn't have dementia when the study began.

Participants completed surveys about their personality and their social lives, including how they handled stress, how outgoing they were, and how diverse and active their social network was. They also got checkups and took mental skills tests several times during the six-year study to screen for dementia.

By the end of the study, 144 participants had been diagnosed with dementia.

Calm, outgoing people were the least likely to develop dementia during the study. Those two personality traits -- calmness and extraversion -- may team up to lower dementia more than either trait alone, Wang's team notes.

The findings held regardless of gender, years of education, depression symptoms, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and the ApoE4 gene variant, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers aren't blaming dementia on people's personality or social lives. Many factors can affect dementia risk. Observational studies like this one show associations, but they don't prove cause and effect. But there's no downside to being calm or outgoing.

"The good news is, lifestyle factors can be modified as opposed to genetic factors, which cannot be controlled. But these are early results, so exactly how mental attitude influences risk for dementia is not clear," Wang says.

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