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A Surprising Way to Tell If You’ll Develop Alzheimer’s Disease

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brain healthThe statistics on Alzheimer’s disease are overwhelming. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. One in eight older Americans has the condition, and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

But there is another little-known stat that is equally, if not more, startling. Among cognitively normal people over the age of 75, about one-third has sufficient and neurofibrillary tangles to meet the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.

These plaques and tangles are especially prominent in those who have Alzheimer’s and contribute to the degradation of neurons in the brain. But they also develop in many elderly people, even those who do not have Alzheimer’s.

It’s these cases — referred to as asymptomatic Alzheimer’s disease (ASYMAD) — that researchers find particularly fascinating. People with ASYMAD have all the physical characteristics that could lead to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but have managed to avoid it. If researchers figure out how, then that could lead the way to better, more effective prevention and treatment measures for Alzheimer’s, which are both sorely lacking right now.

Negativity Hurts the Brain

A team of researchers recently hypothesized that certain personality traits contribute to the cognitive resilience of ASYMAD. They compared the personality traits of those who subsequently developed clinical dementia with those who subsequently died cognitively normal, but with plaques and tangles indicative of Alzheimer’s discovered at autopsy.

And the results of this study may just want to make you turn that frown upside down, especially if you want to protect your brain.

The subjects in this study were also participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, a study of physical and psychological aging. All agreed to have an autopsy of the brain following their death.

Researchers analyzed data obtained from 111 of the participants who completed personality tests at least once before the onset of cognitive decline, and who underwent autopsies after death.

Personality traits were measured using a 240-item questionnaire that looked at 30 facets of personality, six for each of the five major dimensions of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness.

As for neuropathology, participants were divided into three groups based on their cognitive health in their last year of life and their autopsy results:

1. Normal: Patients had no history of cognitive decline and autopsies showed no amyloid beta plaques or other signs of Alzheimer’s.

2. ASYMAD: Patients had no history of cognitive decline, but the autopsies showed amyloid beta plaques in the brain.

3. AD: Patients received clinical diagnosis of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease while alive, and autopsies revealed amyloid beta plaques and other signs indicative of Alzheimer’s.

Looking at the results of the autopsies and the personality questionnaires, researchers discovered that those who had greater emotional resilience and conscientiousness had lower risk of developing dementia, even if their autopsies revealed plaques or other signs of Alzheimer’s.

More specifically, ASYMAD patients scored lower on their personality questionnaires on negative traits like neuroticism, vulnerability to stress, anxiety and depression, compared with controls and to those who actually developed Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, low scores on conscientiousness were strongly associated with the development of clinical dementia.

Researchers believe those who are more emotionally stable and conscientious may have greater resilience because they are generally healthier and engage in behaviors that reduce the risk of dementia — like exercising and abstaining from tobacco use. In addition, emotionally stable people tend to have better metabolic and inflammatory risk profiles and are less likely to have depression — all of which have been linked to dementia.

Also, they found that personality might be related to the severity of disease. Specifically, high neuroticism and low agreeableness were linked to more advanced spread of tangles. And skepticism, cynicism and being manipulative/deceptive were the characteristics associated with the most severe amyloid plaques and tangles.

This new knowledge of how personality traits affect the development of dementia allows us to see just how much of a role attitude plays in our overall health.

The more negative your overall demeanor, the more it will affect your health, possibly leading to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Conversely, even if you are at physically high risk of Alzheimer’s, having a positive attitude toward life could delay or stop the progression of the disease. All the more reason to spend as much time as you can smiling, laughing and appreciating all the little things in your life.

Sources:

Terracciano A et al. Personality and resilience to Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology: a prospective autopsy study. Neurobiol Aging. 2012 Oct 2. pii: S0197-4580(12)00430-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2012.08.008. [Epub ahead of print.]

Saczynski JS et al. Depressive symptoms and the risk of dementia: the Framingham Heart Study. Neurology. 2010 Jul 6;75(1):35-41.


Larissa Long Larissa Long has worked in the health care communications field for more than 13 years. She co-authored a self-care book titled Taking Care, has written countless tip sheets and e-letters on health topics, and contributed several articles to Natural Solutions magazine. She also served as managing editor of three alternative health and lifestyle newsletters — Dr. Susan Lark’s Women’s Wellness Today, Dr. David Williams’ Alternatives, and Janet Luhrs’ Simple Living.
For tips, tools and strategies to address your most pressing health concerns and make a positive difference in your life, visit Peak Health Advocate.

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Article updated on: October 28th, 2013

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6 Responses to “ A Surprising Way to Tell If You’ll Develop Alzheimer’s Disease ”

  1. Linda Burkhead on October 30, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    I have dreamed of a world that is healthy and independent of coersion. The website above reveals my efforts to that end. (According to Meyer-Briggs Personality Profile, I am an INFJ.)

    I have become more negative in the last twenty years as I’ve learned that society was not ready for this new paradigm. I’ve had no one, really, to work with me on this idea over the long haul and so I’ve become isolated in my life.

    It is hard for me to be happy now because I have sacrificed much to do complete this vision… I now have severe short-term memory loss, diagnosed as Dementia. I have always considered myself a positive, hopeful, productive person.

    To complicate matters, I am a social activist who is well informed about the political issues leading up to the final takeover of Fascism in this country. I am 70 years old.

    There is clear evidence now that I may be a candidate for a FEMA Camp (which is designed for NWO’s Depopulation program, starting with the elderly and infirm.)

    How can I Be Here Now in the face of this future?

    I think the time is right for people to see the “writing on the wall” and respond to this Local Free Economy that could help us handle the crisis ahead.

    I am from German stock and well understand how perfectionism could be affecting my personality.
    How can I reclaim my mind to complete the joy and satisfaction of having contributed something meaninful in my life? I need help to pass it on!

  2. Stacy on October 30, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    The more I learn about science and it’s honest findings and interpretations, the more it lines up with scripture. What this article suggests on how we conduct ourselves and the consequences thereof, can be found in God’s Word in some way, if one cares to actually study it.

    • Carroll George, Arlington, Virginia on October 30, 2012 at 2:33 PM

      I am 93 and in the peach of health. Within 5 days of that 93rd birthday I participated in a 5K social affair race with 5 of my youngest greatgrand children, I being the oldest participant by 25 years, completing it in less than an hour. I haven’t required any medication for internal problems since retireing.
      I greet everyone with a smile leting everyone see how upbeat I am. Although my exercise and diet contribute much to my wonderful condition, let me quote a Proverb I have in my wallet: Proverb 17:22 A merry heart does good like medicine, and that is my only medicine.
      Yes, I am a firm believer in that Proverb, and I regularly substitute the word “thankful” for merry in that Proverb in my morning thanksgiving prayers, thanking God for the many miracles He has placed in the path of my life.

      • Kathleen Francis on October 30, 2012 at 3:50 PM

        Beautiful inspiring thoughts you have toward your blessed life. I also believe in Proverbs. this book of Proverbs is full of wisdom which I value highly.
        You are setting a fine example to all of us younger and others who are older than us.
        Keep up you excellent work that God bless you. : )

  3. Alan Wall on November 1, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    My wife at 55 was diagnosed with Alz and now 57. Fighting hard thinking positive with a big smile loving LIFE, nutrition and exercise. NO MEDS and lots & lots of prayers from family and friends. Thank You for your web…

  4. babette on January 15, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    I laugh a lot…especially at articles like this one! “Modern” medicine is a permanent reminder of how greed runs this world.

    No cures for anything, although most know the medical industry possesses the cure for practically everything. But there’s no money in cures, is there.

    Articles like this one promoting a “happy disposition” against a deteriorating brain proliferate and the silly and the desperate gobble them up.

    It is quite self-serving as well: Don’t be a skeptic, believe the medical industry, your brain will stay fresh. Ha!

    It’s alchemy and superstition, folks. Just look how modern medicine claims to “heal” – look at cancer “treatments” for instance. It’s like the Inquisition all over again!

    After nearly a 100 years of “research” and trillions in funds – the cancer ass. has made little or no progress except to dose you with radiation or cut large chunks out of you. Just exactly how dumb are those “researchers”? Perhaps, not dumb at all.

    Gore Vidal didn’t smile much and claimed “rage was all that kept him alive” and yet his brain was sharper than a hound’s tooth till the end.

    Wearing a stupid smile on your face all day long is no guarantee your brain won’t fall apart. It will, however, make you look like a retard. (belly laugh)