Purpose in life may help beat Alzheimer’s

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PEOPLE with goals are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those without motivation, according to a new study.

Researchers found greater purpose in life may help stave off the harmful effects associated with Alzheimer’s.

Study leader Dr Patricia Boyle, of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, Illinois, said: “Our study showed that people who reported greater purpose in life exhibited better cognition than those with less purpose in life even as [protein] plaques and tangles accumulated in their brains.

“These findings suggest that purpose in life protects against the harmful effects of plaques and tangles on memory and other thinking abilities. This is encouraging and suggests that engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities promotes cognitive health in old age.”

Dr Boyle and her colleagues studied 246 people who did not have dementia and who died and underwent brain autopsy. They received an annual clinical evaluation for up to ten years, which included detailed cognitive testing and neurological exams.

The people taking part also answered questions about purpose in life, the degree to which one derives meaning from life’s experiences and is focused and intentional. Brain plaques and tangles were quantified after death.

The research team then examined whether purpose in life slowed the rate of cognitive decline even as older people accumulated plaques and tangles.

While plaques and tangles are very common among people who develop Alzheimer’s disease – characterised by prominent memory loss and changes in other thinking abilities – recent data suggest that plaques and tangles accumulate in most older people, even those without dementia. Plaques and tangles disrupt memory and other cognitive functions.

The study was published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.