sense of purpose

Purpose in life protects against Alzheimer's disease

June, 2012
  • New results from a longitudinal study add to evidence that having a purpose and finding meaning in life protects against the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain.

Here’s a different aspect to cognitive reserve. I have earlier reported on the first tranche of results from this study. Now new results, involving 246 older adults from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, have confirmed earlier findings that having a greater purpose in life may help protect against the brain damage wrought by Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants received an annual clinical evaluation for up to 10 years, which included detailed cognitive testing and neurological exams. They were also interviewed about their purpose in life, that is, the degree to which they derived meaning from life's experiences and were focused and intentional. After death (average age 88), their brains were examined for Alzheimer’s pathology.

Cognitive function, unsurprisingly, declined progressively with increased Alzheimer’s pathology (such as amyloid plaque and tau tangles). But ‘purpose in life’ modified this association, with higher levels of purposiveness reducing the effect of pathology on cognition. The effect was strongest for those with the greatest damage (especially tangles).

The analysis took into account depression, APOE gene status, and other relevant medical factors.

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Having greater purpose in life associated with reduced Alzheimer's risk

March, 2010
  • Data from a large long-running study has found that greater purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, as well as a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment and a slower rate of cognitive decline.

Data from over 900 community-dwelling older adults participating in the Rush Memory and Aging Project has found that greater purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, as well as a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment and a slower rate of cognitive decline. Specifically, those scoring in the top 10% of a purpose in life measure (4.2 out of 5) were approximately 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer's disease than individuals in the bottom 10% (score of 3.0). The association was independent of sociodemographic status, depression, neuroticism, social network size, and number of chronic health conditions.

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