Personality traits and personality disorders in late middle and old age: do they remain stable? A literature review

Inge Debast, Bas Vanalphen, Gina Rossi, Judith Tummers, Nina Bolwerk, Jan Derksen, Erlene Rosowsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Objective To review the evidence on which personality traits and personality disorders (PDs) remain stable into later middle and old age (age >60) and how expressions of (maladaptive) personality traits affect personality assessment among older adults.Design A literature review of longitudinal and cross-sectional studies into old age of the Five Factor Model (FFM) or DSM PDs using PsychInfo, Psychlit and PubMed (period 1980-2012). Combinations of the following keywords were used: "personality, development, stability, five factor personality model, big 5, (borderline) PD(s), aging, older adults".
Results In total we found twenty two relevant articles. Seventeen longitudinal or cross-sectional studies of the FFM were found to mainly support the hypothesis that personality characteristics are susceptible to change over a person's entire lifetime. Neuroticism, Extraversion and Openness appear to diminish as a person ages, while, conversely, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness appear to increase with age. Two longitudinal studies and three cross-sectional studies of DSM-IV PDs suggested there are age-related changes in the ways in which maladaptive personality traits manifest themselves.
Conclusion The temporal instability of personality traits in old age, both adaptive and maladaptive, affects the validity of personality assessment of older adults, especially the face validity. We recommend personality assessment measures that include only age-neutral items. Informant contributions to the personality assessment could also be helpful in improving the reliability in epidemiological research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-271
Number of pages19
JournalClinical Gerontologist
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • stability
  • personality traits
  • personality disorders
  • odler adults


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