Fulfilled living in later life
Being a grumpy Victor Meldrew protects against dementia

Sunday 15th October 2023

Being a grumpy Victor Meldrew protects against dementia

Louise Morse

Scientists from the University of Geneva and the University Hospitals of Geneva, (UHG) Switzerland, have demonstrated through brain imaging and psycho cognitive evaluations on a community-based cohort of elderly people, that certain personality traits appear to protect brain structures against neurodegeneration. Their main findings were that people who tended not to conform, were less ‘agreeable’ than others, and had a lively curiosity and better brain conditions in those regions that tend to lose volume, both in normal ageing and in Alzheimer’s disease. Enter Victor Meldrew?

Those who remember Victor Meldrew will recall his tagline, ‘I don’t believe it!’ And he certainly showed an openness to new experiences – who can forget the episode where he ended up being planted in the ground like a tree after investigating his neighbour’s garden!

Professor Panteleimon Giannakopoulos, a psychiatrist with the UHG’s Faculty of Medicine, said this new research suggests that ‘non--biological means, like personality, may be able to help mitigate one’s dementia risk.’

He explained that a high level of agreeableness characterises highly adaptive personalities, who want above all, to be in line with the wishes of others to avoid conflict, and to seek cooperation. He said, ‘this differs from extroversion. You can be very extroverted and not very pleasant, as are narcissistic personalities, for example. The important determinant is the relationship to the other: do we adapt to others at our own expense?’

‘Being curious is less surprising,’ he added, ‘as we already knew that the desire to learn and interest in the world around us protects us against cerebral ageing.’

The study’s authors remain in the dark as to how the specific traits have this effect. However, they believe they’ve taken an important step in better understanding dementia as a whole and effectively treating it, saying that it is an important part of a complex puzzle.’

It’s already known that mental states such as depression and anxiety cause stress that leads in turn to increased vulnerability to dementia.

On 14th November, at 2:30pm, at a meeting by Zoom Louise Morse and Dr Jennifer Bute discuss the known ‘preventatives’ for dementia and, bearing in mind the neuroplasticity of the brain, tactics that can hold back its progression. Dr Bute was diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago and is still living a very active life. For the link to the meeting, email louise.morse@pilgrimsfriend.org.uk

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