Cynics Beware of Dementia Risk


The optimists reading this article will breathe a sign of relief.  The cynics will look at it skeptically, but curmudgeons and pessimists need to beware that negative thinking may give them a greater risk of dementia. Now, that is something to not take cynically.

Merriam-Webster defines cynical as “peevish, contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives.” Essentially, cynics believe everyone else is motivated by self-interest and cannot be trusted. It is this negative view that puts them at higher risk of developing dementia, according to a study conducted by researchers in Finland.

The eight-year study, published in the journal Neurology, looked at what impact cynicism has on long-term cognitive health. The University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio research team administered tests to nearly 1,500 people, whose average age was 71, to screen for dementia and questionnaires to ascertain each participant’s level of cynicism. They were asked how much if they believed that “most people would lie to get ahead, ” “It is safer to trust nobody,” and other such statements. Once the results were tabulated, the participants were divided into three groups based on the level of cynicism shown by their answers. From the original participant pool, 622 people completed a second round of tests for dementia eight years after the initial one.

During the eight years between the tests, 46 people were diagnosed with dementia. After considering other risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, the researchers found that the people who exhibited high levels of cynicism were three times more likely to develop dementia than the people who exhibited low levels of cynicism. Of the 164 research participants placed in the high levels of cynicism category, 14 developed dementia during the eight years. However, out of 212 people determined to have low levels of cynicism, only nine developed dementia.

These results were adjusted for other dementia risk factors, like smoking. But, overall, the results show that people who are more cynical and distrustful were three times more likely to develop dementia than the less pessimistic participants.  The results could not be explained by factors like lifestyle choices, age or sex, according to study’s author Anna-Maija Tolppanen, Ph.D. The research team interpreted the results as demonstrating that people’s “Personality might actually affect brain health,” she noted, or that cynics need to beware of the potential dementia risk.

This is not the first study to show that cynicism can impact a person’s health. Research published in American Journal of Epidemiology indicated that cynicism increase the risk of a heart attack. Other research has linked cynicism to early death.

Further research needed to be done, but the studies do provides insight into the early stages of dementia. Cynicism, depression, anger and paranoia are some of the personality changes that often come with dementia in early stages. So, realistically that could be tied to the results the Finnish study found. A longer study would show whether lifelong cynics need to beware of a greater risk for dementia or if the study merely captured the early symptoms of the participants impending dementia.

By Dyanne Weiss

CBS News

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