In a recent publication, investigators evaluated factors that might influence the change in a test called the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) within a large group of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). This test measures cognitive function, specifically processing speed, which is an area of cognition most commonly affected in MS. At least two SDMT tests from 531 patients were collected over the course of 16 years and the average time between tests was approximately three years. The investigators assessed the typical features that would be potential predictors of a decline, such as gender, age, and baseline education, however conscientiousness was also included. Conscientiousness is a personality trait that is the tendency to be well-organized, schema driven, achievement striving and deliberate. Interestingly, the investigators found that higher baseline conscientiousness significantly predicted a reduced rate of SDMT decline. This observation is difficult to explain, however the investigators point out that conscientiousness people tend to maintain positive health behaviors, such as taking prescribed medication and make healthy lifestyle choices. Importantly, being a conscientiousness person can be learned and as we understand the brain, more evidence is suggesting that positive attitudes and behaviors may influence the way our brain is able to compensate for disease.
Ref: Fuchs TA, Wojcik C, Wilding GE et al. Trait Conscientiousness predicts rate of longitudinal SDMT decline in multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis Journal, Jan 2019: on-line