Can Finding Purpose In Life Help Defend Against Alzheimer’s? A New Study Says Yes.

March 4, 2010 at 4:52 pm 1 comment

Image by Garrison Photo, bjearwike on Stock.Xchng If you look in the sidebar of this blog, among the keys to brain fitness is one entitled “Purpose, Connection & Spirit” but I’ve not written too much on the “purpose” part.  Purpose and meaning is a topic I feel strongly about – and I believe that finding and making life meaningful helps us to live longer, contribute more, and keep our minds clear and functional.

But I sometimes shy away from writing on the subject here.

Why shy away? I try to base the posts here on science, whenever possible, and there’s just not a lot of research being done on the cognitive impact of finding meaning in life.  There’s been research on how a sense of purpose can lead to longer lives, happier lives, better mental and physical health – but little that could directly tie it to brain fitness.

But a new study just came out, specifically addressing the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling that our life has meaning and purpose – and they did, indeed, find a positive relationship.

To discover that relationship, Researchers at Rush University Medical Center worked with 900 retirement community residents, none of them showing signs of dementia.  Each participant was given a list of questions about  much purpose and intention they brought to their life, questions like “I feel good when I think of what I have done in the past and what I hope to do in the future” and “I enjoy making plans for the future and working them to a reality.”

Then the participants were followed for up to  7 years, to assess their cognitive function;  155 of them developed Alzheimer’s disease.

So, what were the results in relation to the sense of purpose?

Those who had a greater sense of purpose in life were more likely to remain clear and sharp minded, with lower risks of both  mild cognitive problems, and Alzheimer’s disease.  A sense of purpose also seemed to slow the rate of cognitive decline – meaning that even when the participants with a sense of purpose did have problems, the problems developed more slowly.

The researchers aren’t exactly sure why a sense of purpose seems to help the mind stay sharper, but other studies have suggested that a positive, meaningful approach to life seems to affect immune responses, inflammation, cholesterol levels, and even how the body stores fat.

What are the challenges?

Changing our outlook on life is a comparatively simple and risk-free change to make in our lives. That’s not to say it’s always easy – it means fighting sometimes long-held beliefs, treating depression, and being active participants in life.  And as our life changes with age and circumstance, our purpose must change, too.  That’s not always easy for some of us to accept, but it may be something we need to learn, if we want to lead healthy, long and clear minded lives throughout our years.

You can learn more about the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center here:
And if the science interests you, check out more details from the study here:

Entry filed under: Purpose. Connection & Spirit. Tags: , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mike Logan  |  March 7, 2010 at 6:38 am

    Hi Tori,

    I went through a very powerful experiential weekend for men, in 1989, and part of the work was to find a mission. Long story short, my first iteration was “Heal the Children’s Shame” which was more about my shame than anyone elses, and then another mission emerged, “I empower awareness and choice”, and when I really remember that and get into it, it makes the hair on my stand up and gives me goose bumps. I think you should write about mission and passion and vision in conjunction with science, as if you don’t already anyway. Mike


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About This Blog

A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness



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