Do you have a purpose in life, a purpose that drives you to go on living and be healthy? For the young, this question is easy to answer. For the elderly, the answer to this question is not an easy one. But your answer may actually be determinant whether you develop Alzheimer’s disease or not.
Over the years, a lot of risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s have been identified, including, genetics, nutrition, physical activity, and psychosocial factors. Latest research indicates that psychological factors that may include conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism are linked to risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
This latest study by American researchers suggests that having a greater purpose in life than just while the days away can reduce to risk for mild cognitive impairment, which is a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
According to researcher Dr. Patricia A. Boyle and her colleagues at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago:
“Purpose in life, the psychological tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and to possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behavior, has long been hypothesized to protect against adverse health outcomes.”
The Chicago researchers looked at more than 950 older adults living in communities and are part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project. The participants had to answer questionnaires that assess their purpose in life. As an example, they are asked to rate their level of agreement with the following statements.
- “I feel good when I think of what I have done in the past and what I hope to do in the future.”
- “I have a sense of direction and purpose in life.”
High scores were indicative of greater purpose in life. The participants were followed up for 4 to 7 years, including psychological and clinical evaluations. Upon the analyzing the scores based on questionnaire responses, the researchers found that patients who scored the highest (4.2 out of 5) were 2.4 times more likely not to develop Alzheimer’s than those with low scores (3 out of 5). The high scorers had also a significantly reduced risk for cognitive impairment and lower rate of cognitive decline. However, the biological significance of the findings is poorly understood. Nonetheless, this suggests a potential for behavioral therapy and preventive measures for the elderly. The authors concluded:
“In particular, these findings may provide a new treatment target for interventions aimed at enhancing health and well-being in older adults. Purpose in life is a potentially modifiable factor that may be increased via specific behavioral strategies that help older persons identify personally meaningful activities and engage in goal-directed behaviors. Even small behavioral modifications ultimately may translate into an increased sense of intentionality, usefulness and relevance.”