In a cohort study of 82 232 participants, personality traits in adolescence were a factor associated with incident dementia almost 5 decades later in a national US cohort. Calm and mature adolescents were less likely to develop dementia, and this risk reduction was significantly more pronounced with higher socioeconomic status.
Objectives To examine whether personality during adolescence—a time when preclinical dementia pathology is unlikely to be present—confers risk of dementia in later life and to test whether associations could be accounted for by health factors in adolescence or differed across socioeconomic status (SES).
Design, Setting, and Participants Cohort study in the United States. Participants were members of Project Talent, a national sample of high school students in 1960. Individuals were identified who received a dementia-associated International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) diagnosis code during any year between 2011 and 2013. The dates of our analysis were March 2018 to May 2019.
Exposures Ten personality traits were measured by the 150-item Project Talent Personality Inventory. Socioeconomic status was measured by a composite based on parental educational level, income, occupation, and property ownership. Participants were also surveyed on demographic factors and height and weight.
Main Outcomes and Measures Medicare records were collected, with dementia diagnoses in the period of 2011 to 2013 classified according to the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ICD-9–based algorithm. Cox proportional hazards regression models estimated the relative risk of dementia based on the 10 personality traits, testing interactions with SES and adjusting for demographic confounders.
Results The sample of 82 232 participants was 50.1% female, with a mean (SD) age of 15.8 (1.7) years at baseline and 69.5 (1.2) years at follow-up. Lower risk of dementia was associated with higher levels of vigor (hazard ratio for 1 SD, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.90-0.97; P < .001). Calm and maturity showed protective associations with later dementia that increased with SES. At 1 SD of SES, calm showed a hazard ratio of 0.89 (95% CI, 0.84-0.95; P < .001 for the interaction) and maturity showed a hazard ratio of 0.90 (95% CI, 0.85-0.96; P = .001 for the interaction).
Conclusions and Relevance This study’s findings suggest that the adolescent personality traits associated with later-life dementia are similar to those observed in studies of older persons. Moreover, the reduction in dementia risk associated with a calm and mature adolescent phenotype may be greater at higher levels of SES. Personality phenotype may be a true independent risk factor for dementia by age 70 years, preceding it by almost 5 decades and interacting with adolescent socioeconomic conditions.