Avoiding Alzheimer’s With Purpose

Alzheimers like brain plaques increased in those without purpose

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Purpose in life can be as simple as having a hobby or connecting with family. New research points to having purpose in life to keep memory and thinking going strong.

Plaques and tangles in the brain are a sign of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and thought to be the reason for loss of function.

A recent study looked at the brains of people after they died and compared it to their cognitive skills before their death. People who felt they had purpose were more likely to keep their cognitive abilities even though they had plaques and tangles. 

"Find a meaningful activity – and enjoy it!"

The study, led by Patricia Boyle, PhD, of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, looked at the brains of 246 patients who did not have dementia.  All of the patients had yearly exams as part of a long-term study.

During the exams, they were asked about their feelings of purpose in life and their cognitive abilities were tested. The cognitive skills of the people in the study included 19 tests of memory and judgment. 

After their death, Dr. Boyle and colleagues looked at the amount of tangles and plaques that had accumulated in the brain and compared it to the way people rated the meaningfulness of their lives at the last exam they attended before death.

People who reported high levels of purpose had better cognitive skills even though they had tangles and plaques in the brain. The authors conclude that feeling that life has meaning or purpose offsets some of the memory problems that tangles and plaques may cause.

The authors stated in the article, "These findings suggest that purpose in life provides neural reserve by protecting against the harmful effects of AD pathologic changes on cognitive function in elderly persons."

The study was published in the May 2012 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. The study was funded by the National Institutes on Aging. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 6, 2012
Last Updated:
May 8, 2012