Qualities That Make for Must-Watch TV May Boost Risk of Alzheimer’s in Women


brainplaqueFor those of you who don’t subscribe to The Hollywood Reporter, I’m going to synergize vital news you may have missed with a longitudinal study shared by a professional society of neuroscientists.

First, THR. In January, the entertainment trade pub reported the Bravo cable network’s “Real Housewives” franchise hit an all-time high (marking the most-watched night in the network’s 33-year history) with about 4 1/2 million pairs of eyeballs glued to an episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The reality franchise (“reality” being subjective), now in its ninth season with more than 700 episodes aired (including a bunch of spinoffs), lets viewers live vicariously amid the turbulence of cliques of women in six burgs. Viewers can follow cast members’ blogs and videos, websites and magazines add to the hand-wringing, and fans who can’t get enough blog some more. (Disclaimer: I’ve never watched, but I pass through supermarket checkout stands, so I’m not oblivious.)

The cast members and their loyal looky-loos may be interested in the findings from a nearly 40-year-long study published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, which notes that women who are anxious, jealous, moody, and/or distressed in middle age may be at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

While researchers have concentrated their study of factors that put people at risk for Alzheimer’s on family history, genetics, head trauma, heart and blood risk factors, and education, the author of the new study, Lena Johansson, PhD, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden, considered personality risk factors. Johansson says that personality may influence a person’s risk for dementia as it filters through behavior, lifestyle, and the fallout from stress.

Some 800 women, average age 46, were tracked for 38 years. They took personality tests delving into their level of neuroticism (being easily distressed, and personality traits such as worrying, jealousy, or moodiness), and extraversion or introversion. The women also took memory tests.

Participants were asked about the nature of stressors and their duration.

The findings note that women who scored highest on the tests for neuroticism had double the risk of developing dementia versus those who scored lowest on the tests (with a caveat that the link depended on longstanding stress.) Women who were either an introvert or extrovert did not have increased risk, but, participants who were both easily distressed and withdrawn had the highest risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Time for a Bravo disclaimer? “Overly empathetic viewers beware, mega doses of this show can be hazardous to your health.”

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