Cynical distrust is characterized by the belief that others are motivated by selfish interests. Though it may appear to be merely a “glass is half empty” point of view, researchers say having this viewpoint increases chances of developing dementia.

The researchers, led by Anna-Malia Tolppanen, PhD, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, publish their findings in the journal Neurology.

They say that cynicism has been previously linked with other health problems, including heart disease, but this study is the first to examine the link between cynicism and dementia.

According to the American Academy of Neurology, dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a term for a range of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. Individuals with dementia have impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with daily life.

In 2010, 35.6 million people had dementia worldwide, and experts anticipate that numbers will double every 20 years, bringing the total to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050.

To further examine the relationship between dementia and cynicism, the researchers studied 1,449 people of an average age of 71, who were given tests for dementia and a questionnaire that assessed their cynicism levels.

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Compared with their low-level counterparts, individuals with high levels of cynical distrust are three times more likely to develop dementia, researchers say.

The team notes that the questionnaire has been proven reliable, and scores of individuals tended to stay stable over several years.

The study participants were asked to what degree they agreed with certain statements, including:

  • “I think most people would lie to get ahead”
  • “It is safer to trust nobody”
  • “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.”

After scoring each participant, the researchers grouped them into categories of low, moderate or high levels of cynical distrust.

In total, 622 participants completed two dementia tests, and the last one was conducted an average of 8 years after the start of the study. During the study period, 46 people were diagnosed with dementia.

After adjusting for factors that could affect dementia risk – including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking – the team found that individuals with high levels of cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia, compared with those with low levels.

In detail, 14 of the 164 participants with high levels of cynicism developed dementia, while only nine of the 212 participants with low levels of cynicism did.

Commenting on their findings, Tolppanen says:

These results add to the evidence that people’s view on life and personality may have an impact on their health. Understanding how a personality trait like cynicism affects risk for dementia might provide us with important insights on how to reduce risks for dementia.”

Though the study also looked at whether cynicism could contribute to earlier death – and initially found there was an association – after accounting for factors such as socioeconomic status, smoking behavior and health status, the team concluded there was no such link.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study that showed how researchers were able to reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s in mice by using a newly created molecular compound called antisense oligonucleotide.