Purpose in Life protects from cognitive decline

03.01.2016 - Silvia Swinden

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Purpose in Life protects from cognitive decline
(Image by Rafael Eduards: Kindness)

A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2012 has just been widely reported. Its title:

“Effect of Purpose in Life [PIL]on the Relation Between Alzheimer Disease Pathologic Changes on Cognitive Function in Advanced Age”

The study defines purpose in life as “the tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behavior.” Both clinical measurements and post-mortem examinations  were conducted. The study concluded that “higher levels of purpose in life exhibited better cognitive function despite the burden of the disease” [Alzheimer’s]. Furthermore, there was significant evidence that purpose in life reduced the effect of the disease’s pathology changes on cognitive decline. The study can be read in the NCBI site.

Another paper published in June 2015 (1) by Cerebrum and reported by the British Neuroscience Association refers again to Purpose in Life research.

It quotes Friedrich Nietzsche:“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How”  and refers to Viktor Frankl’s work: “Current research reveals exciting correlations between PIL and positive health outcomes in a multitude of body systems. In the 1940s Viktor Frankl introduced PIL to psychiatry. That Frankl was able to share his theory at all is nothing short of miraculous. He was a Jewish physician trained in both psychiatry and neurology who practiced in Austria when it came to be occupied by Nazi Germany. He survived three brutal years in various concentration camps, among them Auschwitz. He writes about his experiences in his magnum opus, A Man s Search for Meaning , where he also summarizes logotherapy”, a set of ideas that sustained him during the Holocaust and crowned his professional career. As Frankl writes, Mans main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has meaning. Frankl emphasizes that this meaning is individual rather than general people have to determine for themselves their mission in life. Compared to other psychologic doctrines that focus on looking back to the impact of past events, or inwardly through introspection, logotherapy looks to the future and to a persons will to do something meaningful with it.”…

…”New work by Patricia Boyle and colleagues at the Rush Alzheimers Disease Center suggests that PIL could be neuroprotective (brain-preserving). After following more than nine hundred older people at risk for dementia for seven years, they found that those with a high PIL were only half as likely to develop Alzheimers disease than those with a low PIL, even after controlling for demographics, depressive symptoms, personality vulnerabilities, social network size, and number of chronic medical conditions. Those studied were also 30 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition characterized by minor cognitive deficits that could (but doesnt always) progress to Alzheimers. 

“Boyles group further explored the relationship between PIL and cognitive change over time. For people without Alzheimers disease, a high sense of purpose was associated with slower rates of age-related cognitive decline.”

Science Daily also reports a contribution to this issue, this time on the cardioprotective effects of having purpose in life.

“Having a high sense of purpose in life may lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a new study led by researchers at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai Roosevelt and presented on March 6 at the American Heart Association’s EPI/Lifestyle 2015 Scientific Sessions in Baltimore.”

The materialistic dehumanised values of the present economic system present one and only purpose or meaning: Money. But more research is showing that meaning is not just a philosophical or spiritual issue, it is very much a physical and mental health issue and it cannot be swept under the carpet.

Categories: Health, International, Opinions, Science and Technology

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