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Don't Worry, Be Happy: Neuroticism Rots the Brain

Update Date: Oct 14, 2014 01:48 PM EDT

People with neurotic personalities are significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease in old age, according to new research. Neurotics are more easily worried, distressed, experience frequent mood swings and have difficulty managing stress.

The 38-year study involved 800 women, who were asked to take personality tests in 1968. Participants' results were used to measure their levels of neuroticism and extroversion.

The follow-up in 2006 revealed that one in five participants developed dementia conditions. During the follow-up, the women took memory tests and were asked if they had experienced long periods of high stress.

"We could see that the women who developed Alzheimer disease had more often been identified in the personality test 40 years earlier as having neurotic tendencies. We found a clear statistical correlation for the women who had at the same time been subject to a long period of stress," researcher Lena Johansson of Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg said in a news release.

Further analysis revealed that women who worried more often had the highest risk of developing dementia.

Most Alzheimer studies focused on factors like education, family history and genetics. Researchers said that the latest study, which followed participants from middle age to old age, is the first to show that personality can significantly affect dementia risk.

"Some studies have shown that long periods of stress can increase the risk of Alzheimer disease, and our main hypothesis is that it is the stress itself that is harmful. A person with neurotic tendencies is more sensitive to stress than other people," concluded Johansson.

The findings will be published in the journal Neurology.

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