A person suffering from Alzheimer's gradually loses touch with reality. It is one of the most dreaded diseases of aging.
"When you think about the functions that limit living independently and autonomously, loss of cognition is one of the major ones," says neurologist Aron Buchman.
Buchman says finding ways to treat and prevent the disease is critical because the risk of developing Alzheimer's increases as people grow older and the world's population is aging.
Focus on the positive
Having a purpose in life has been associated with other positive health outcomes so Buchman wondered if feeling life has meaning might also have an impact on developing Alzheimer's.
"People with high purpose in life have a lower risk of dying," he says. "We know that they also have a lower risk of developing disability, and their rate of motor decline is slower as well."
So Buchman and his colleagues at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago assessed 'purpose in life' in 900 seniors who had an average age of 80.
Sense of purpose
Their 'purpose in life' score was based on their level of agreement with statements like, "I feel good when I think about what I have done in the past and what I hope to do in the future." Participants were also examined clinically each year for signs of Alzheimer's or mild dementia.
"We found that people with high purpose in life at the beginning of the study had about a two-and-half times lower risk of developing dementia as compared to somebody with low purpose in life," Buchman reports. "Having high purpose in life seems to be associated with a lower risk of developing cognitive difficulties as people age."
Buchman says the study's finding indicates that strategies to prevent the onset of Alzheimer's and dementia need to focus on increasing seniors' feelings of purpose in life. Encouraging them to volunteer, to stay active and involved may not only enhance their health and well-being today, but well into the future.