A new study published in this month’s issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry uncovers that people who say their lives have a purpose are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or its precursor, mild cognitive impairment.
The study was designed to test whether a positive attitude and purposeful life has a positive effect on decreasing the risk of dementia. The study was performed by taking 951 older people without dementia who participated in the Rush Memory and Aging Project and having them answer various statements to gauge their level of satisfaction in life.
Over the course of the study 16.3 percent of the participants developed Alzheimer’s disease and after reviewing the participant pool the researchers discovered the following:
- People who responded most positively to statements about their lives were the least likely to develop Alzheimer’s
- People who said they had more purposeful lives were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment and showed a slower rate of
- People who scored 4.2 out of 5 on the purpose-in-life measure were about 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (compared with people who scored 3.0)
The study only succeeds at making the correlation between a positive attitude and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. In discussing their findings, the study’s co-author Dr. Aron S. Buchman stated, “One possibility is that, truly, somebody with high purpose in life might have a lower risk of developing dementia because of what’s involved in purpose in life. The importance of the study is this doesn’t prove anything, but it points researchers in the direction of a link between purpose in life and cognition in late life. And now we have to find out what the biological basis is. More social activity, more physical activity, higher cognitive activities, high purpose in life — all these psychosocial factors seem to be linked with longer life, decreased mortality, decreased disability and provide important clues to a public health approach to try to increase independence in older people in later life.”
Some researchers, such as Greg M. Cole, a neuroscientist at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System, argue that the findings might simply further point out the link between depression and Alzheimer’s. However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that our mood and overall level of happiness contributes to mental health – the purported “mind-body” connection. As Dr. Buchman suggested, staying social and participating in physical fitness are not only fun activities but are likely to improve our over well-being and longevity as well.