The idea that personality changes begin before the clinical onset of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia has no supporting evidence, new research from Florida State University has found.

The question of whether personality and behavior changes might appear prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias has been a subject of disagreement among scientists and physicians for years.

“We further found that personality remained stable even within the last few years before the onset of mild cognitive impairment,"

FSU College of Medicine Associate Professor Antonio Terracciano said.

Baltimore Longitudinal Aging Study

Terracciano, along with College of Medicine Associate Professor Angelina Sutin and co-authors from the National Institute on Aging looked at data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The study investigated personality and clinical assessments obtained between 1980 and July 2016 from more than 2,000 individuals who initially showed no cognitive impairment.

Roughly 18 percent of study participants later developed MCI or dementia.

“We compared whether personality change in people who later developed dementia differed from those who remained cognitively normal,” Terracciano said. “Unlike previous research, this study examined multiple waves of self-rated personality data collected up to 36 years before participants developed any sign of dementia."

What the researchers found is that personality traits did not differ between people who would later develop dementia and ones who did not.

Personality Changes Still Important

Although personality change could not be said to be an early sign of dementia, this study gives more support to the concept that personality traits, including high levels of neuroticism and low levels of conscientiousness, are risk factors for dementia.

Personality changes are still an important consideration in the care of those who have already experienced the clinical onset of MCI or dementia. Increasing apathy, irritability, mood changes and other behavioral symptoms impact quality of life for both patients and their caregivers.

Terracciano A, An Y, Sutin AR, Thambisetty M, Resnick SM Personality Change in the Preclinical Phase of Alzheimer Disease JAMA Psychiatry. Published online September 20, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2816

Image: Jef Safi/Flickr

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