Having greater purpose in life associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease

Mar 01, 2010

Individuals who report having greater purpose in their lives appear less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, according to a report in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

"Alzheimer's disease is one of the most dreaded consequences of aging, and the identification of modifiable factors associated with the risk of Alzheimer's disease is a top public health priority for the 21st century, particularly given the large and rapidly increasing aging population," the authors write as background information in the article. Relatively few of these risk factors have been identified, but data suggest that some psychological factors—including conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism—may be associated with Alzheimer's disease risk.

"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," write Patricia A. Boyle, Ph.D., and colleagues at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. The researchers assessed this quality in more than 900 community-dwelling without dementia who were participating in the Rush Memory and Aging Project.

Participants' purpose in life was measured by their level of agreement with statements such as, "I feel good when I think of what I have done in the past and what I hope to do in the future" and "I have a sense of direction and purpose in life." After an average of four years and a maximum of seven years of annual follow-up clinical evaluations, 155 of 951 participants (16.3 percent) developed Alzheimer's disease. After controlling for other related variables, greater purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, as well as a reduced risk of and a slower rate of .

Specifically, individuals with a score of 4.2 out of 5 (90th percentile) on the purpose in life measure were approximately 2.4 times more likely to remain free of than individuals with a score of 3.0 (10th percentile).

The biological basis of the association is unknown, but may result from the positive effects purpose of life is reported to have on immune function and blood vessel health, the authors suggest.

The result may have public health implications. "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," the authors continue. "Even small behavioral modifications ultimately may translate into an increased sense of intentionality, usefulness and relevance."

Explore further: Research links sadness with avoidance of indulgent behavior

More information: Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67[3]:304-310.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Our brains are hardwired for language

12 hours ago

A groundbreaking study published in PLOS ONE by Prof. Iris Berent of Northeastern University and researchers at Harvard Medical School shows the brains of individual speakers are sensitive to language univer ...

Child burn effects far reaching for parents

17 hours ago

Parents of burn victims experience significant psychological distress for at least three months after the incident and may compromise the post-operative recovery of their child, WA research has found.

Internet use may cut retirees' depression

17 hours ago

Spending time online has the potential to ward off depression among retirees, particularly among those who live alone, according to research published online in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences an ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

White House updating online privacy policy

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.