Cynical distrust, anger or hostility have been linked to heart
problems and inflammation in past research, and dementia may be
another potential consequence of a bad attitude, researchers say.
“This makes sense, as previous studies have linked cynical distrust
to e.g. lower socioeconomic position which itself is related to
worse health outcomes,” Anna-Maija Tolppanen told Reuters Health in
Tolppanen, a researcher in neurology at the University of Eastern
Finland in Kuopio, is the study’s senior author.
It’s also possible that health problems and behaviors associated
with cynicism are contributing to dementia risk, the study team
For their analysis, they defined cynicism as a person’s belief that
others are motivated by selfishness.
They looked at data on 1,500 Fins between the ages of 65 and 79 in
1997. The participants were examined for basic characteristics,
attitudes and dementia in 1997 and again eight to 10 years later.
The researchers measured cynical distrust using an eight-question
survey that scores cynicism levels on a scale from zero to 24, with
higher numbers representing greater cynicism. They only had complete
data on screening and diagnosis of dementia for less than half of
People who scored highest on the cynicism scale, between 15 and 24
points, tended to be heavier and were more likely to smoke,
according to the findings published in the journal Neurology.
The highly cynical group was also the smallest one, containing 164
people, compared to 246 in the group that scored moderate cynicism
and 212 in the least-cynical group.
But there were 14 dementia diagnoses in the most cynical group,
compared to 13 in the moderately-cynical group and nine in the
least-cynical group. That works out to the most cynical group having
a risk of developing dementia more than three times that of the
least cynical group.
This study does not prove that having a bad attitude causes health
problems, Tolppanen said.
“But together with the previous research it strongly suggests that
our personality may affect our health,” she said.
When her team adjusted for socioeconomic position, age, sex, health
status and smoking, those factors did not explain the difference in
dementia risk between the most cynical and those who were less so.
She and her coauthors did not take into account individuals’
engagement in social activities, which is beneficial for cognition,
she noted, and might at least partly help to explain the association
between dementia and personality.
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The study was also unable to assess whether cynicism might represent
a symptom, rather than a cause, in the earliest stages of dementia.
More research, with a larger group of people, is needed to better
identify the role cynicism may play in dementia risk, Tolppanen’s
team writes in their report. But what’s important, they say, is that
attitudes and lifestyle can be modified – if doing so leads to
better health and quality of life, it’s worth a try.
Cynicism is not pessimism, rather it is a type of anger and mistrust
directed at others, Dr. Hilary A. Tindle of the University of
Pittsburgh School of Medicine told Reuters Health by email.
Tindle wrote the book “Up: How Positive Outlook Can Transform Our
Health and Aging” in 2013.
Cynical people tend to smoke more, weigh more and exercise less,
which can affect health, and they are less likely to follow medical
advice or treatment regimens, she said.
They also tend to have higher stress responses and inflammation,
which can accelerate heart disease, which in turn contributes to
dementia risk, as small blood vessels in the brain are damaged, she
“I think in the near future cynicism and other psychological
attitudes will be incorporated medically,” as risk factors for
dementia or other health problems, she said. But for now, there are
other things people can do to decrease dementia risk.
“Some risk factors can't be changed, such as age, family or genetic
history,” H. Shellae Versey told Reuters Health by email. Versey is
a postdoctoral trainee at the Institute for Health, Health Care
Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University in Camden, New
But alcohol use, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity,
depression and smoking are things that can be changed or controlled,
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1oCTXzH Neurology, online May 28, 2014.
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