OBJECTIVE: Neuroticism has been reported as both a risk factor for cognitive decline and a characteristic that increases in parallel with the development of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia. However, the evidence for these associations is inconclusive, and whether effects are stronger for particular cognitive domains is unknown. We investigated these issues and determined if associations differ among different components of neuroticism.
METHODS: A neuroticism scale (NEO-FFI) and neuropsychological test battery were administered to 603 older adults without dementia, with 493 of these reassessed two years later. Diagnoses of MCI and dementia (at follow-up) were made, and global cognition and performance in six cognitive domains quantified. The neuroticism components were negative affect, self-reproach, and proneness to psychological distress.
RESULTS: For the whole sample, neuroticism scores remained stable between baseline (15.3 ± 7.0) and follow-up (15.5 ± 7.0), as did all neuroticism component scores. However, there were declines in global cognition (p < 0.05) and particular cognitive domains (p < 0.001). Higher neuroticism was associated with poorer cognition cross-sectionally (p < 0.01), but did not predict cognitive decline. For 43 participants who developed incident MCI or dementia, there were increases in neuroticism (15.3 ± 6.4 to 17.1 ± 8.3, p < 0.05) and negative affect (p < 0.05). Declines in all cognitive measures except executive function were associated with increases in neuroticism and component scores (p < 0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: Late-life cognitive decline is associated with an increase in neuroticism scores. However, associations vary between different cognitive domains and components of neuroticism. An increase in neuroticism or negative affect scores may be a sign of MCI or dementia.
- cognitive decline
- late life
- mild cognitive impairment
- negative affect