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Cynics may be at greater risk of developing dementia

Older people who harbour a cynical distrust of others are about three times more likely to develop dementia than individuals who have a more trusting view of humanity, a study has found.


Cynical distrust was measured by questionnaires testing a person’s tendency to believe that others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns and it has in the past been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, the researchers said.

The findings suggest that a person’s psychological makeup could play a role in determining their predisposition to senile dementia, along with factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

“These results add to the evidence that people’s view of life and personality may have an impact on their health. Understanding how a personality trait like cynicism affects risk for dementia might provide us with important insights on how to reduce risks for dementia,” said Anna-Maija Tolppanen of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, who led the research.

The study involved health and psychological tests on nearly 1,500 elderly Finns with an average age of 71 who were followed up over a period of about eight years to determine their general health and their views on life, such as whether they have high or low levels of cynical distrust of others.

For instance they were asked about whether they agree with statements such as: “I think most people would like to get ahead”, “it is safer to trust nobody, and “most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it”.

During that time, 46 of a panel of 622 people who completed the two sets of tests at the start and end of the study had developed dementia. After adjusting for other factors known to affect dementia risk, such as smoking, the researchers found that of the remaining 164 people with high levels of cynical distrust, 14 had developed dementia, compared to nine among the 212 people judged to have low levels of cynicism.

“The main message from the study would be that psychological factors are also important for the risk of developing dementia,” said Alina Solomon of the University of Eastern Finland, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Neurology.

“It’s difficult to say what the exact reasons are but we could assume that an attitude of distrust may influence a person’s lifestyle and social networks… We don’t say it’s a causal factor, we just say it increases the risk,” Dr Solomon said.

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