Sunday, February 1, 2009

Let’s party and be sane!

The more you live, the wiser your parents seem. “You need to have an active social life to be sane” is something my mother always said to me and my siblings. I never really paid attention to that daily advice. I enjoyed being a "recluse". When my mom first moved to the U.S., she missed her very active and high profile social life the most. I never quite understood the importance of her social life to her well-being until I read about a recent Swedish study reported in the journal Neurology which claims that socially active people who were not easily stressed had a 50 percent lower risk of developing dementia compared to men and women who were isolated and prone to distress.

Past studies had shown the association between chronic distress (i.e. neuroticism) and greater risk of dementia, and the association between active lifestyle (i.e. high extraversion) and lower risk of dementia. The new study sought to examine the individual and combined effects of neuroticism and extraversion on the risk of dementia.

The study was based on a 6-year follow-up of 506 elderly people from the Kungsholmen Project, Stockholm, Sweden, who showed no signs of dementia upon the first examination. The volunteers’ personality traits were assessed using the Eysenck Personality Inventory. Specialists diagnosed dementia according to DSM-III-R criteria.

Among the different combinations (i.e. high neuroticism and high extraversion, high neuroticism and low extraversion, low neuroticism and high extraversion, low neuroticism and low extraversion), low neuroticism in combination with high extraversion seems to be the personality trait associated with the lowest dementia risk. However, among socially isolated individuals even low neuroticism alone seems to decrease dementia risk.

Hui-Xin Wang of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who led the study, said in a statement reported by Reuters.
"In the past, studies have shown that chronic distress can affect parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, possibly leading to dementia, but our findings suggest that having a calm and outgoing personality in combination with a socially active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further."

Mom, you seem to be right!

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