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Purpose May Be the Secret Weapon in the War on Dementia

  • Dec 27, 2016
  • Karen Carney
  • 4-min Read

Think focusing on someone’s purpose is fluff? Think again.

Minnesota native Dan Buettner found that having a purpose in our lives is one of the nine factors that influence longevity. In his best-selling book the Blue Zones, he identified ‘longevity hotspots’ around the world as places where people tend to live longer, and purpose kept popping up as a common denominator. In fact, his web site suggests that if you follow the Blue Zones lifestyle you may add 10 years to your life.

Another Minnesota native, Richard Leider, the best-selling author of The Power of Purpose which is now a PBS series, has long promoted the importance of purpose in our lives.

Now clinical research is finding that purpose seems to slow cognitive decline and even override physiological changes that cause dementia in others.

Dr. Randy Cohen and his team at Mount Sinai/St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City analyzed data from 10 studies that involved 136,000 people and found that having a sense of purpose in your life actually decreases the risk of death by 23%. Dr. Cohen declared it as beneficial as exercising and more importantly, stated in an article in Cardiovascular Disease News that ‘developing and refining your sense of purpose could protect your health and potentially save your life,’ especially from cardiac events. His team defined purpose as ‘having a sense of meaning and direction,’ and ‘feeling that life is worth living.’

His team defined purpose as ‘having a sense of meaning and direction,’ and ‘feeling that life is worth living.’

In Chicago at Rush Medical Center, Dr. Patricia Boyle and her team have been studying more than 1,500 people since 1997 as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project. At the start of the study, none of the participants showed any signs of cognitive decline. They all underwent yearly physicals and agreed to donate their organs after death in the interest of science.

The study used a standard psychological assessment tool for participants to rate the level of purpose in their lives. Participants with high purpose scores (4.2 out of 5) were approximately 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer’s disease than those with a score of 3.0 or below. They also found that having a sense of purpose slowed the rate of cognitive decline by about 30%, which Dr. Boyle told the New York Times ‘is a lot.’ The impact of purpose on dementia goes even further than

The impact of purpose on dementia goes even further than that though.An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is confirmed through autopsy by examining people’s brains for the distinctive plaques and tangles of the disease. According to an Alzheimer’s Association blog about this Rush Medical Center study, those who had a high sense of purpose in their lives were just as likely to have the dementia-related plaques and tangles in their brain, however they were 52% less likely to actually demonstrate signs of cognitive impairment. Dr. Boyle, the lead researcher stated in the blog that, ‘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.’

Having purpose in life may not guarantee that people won’t develop Alzheimer’s or dementia, however, it can certainly provide significant benefits from heart health to quality of life to cognition. And that reduces their need for in-home care as well as their long-term health costs. And isn’t that what we all want?

How are you helping your clients ignite their purpose even as they face life’s transitions?

Check out these additional articles on the benefits of purpose:
NYT: http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/living-on-purpose/?_r=0

Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2016/05/11/the-secret-to-living-a-longer-healthier-life/#235068045da5

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