As the baby boomers are aging, the greatest fear that I hear from all of them is the development of Alzheimer’s disease. More feared than even cancer or heart disease, people are afraid of losing their memory. I even get emails and calls from the children of older patients, very concerned about their parents memories.
Now, a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that people with purpose in their life are 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer’s disease than is a person who has low purpose in life. The article specifically explains that “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.”
In an interview with the author of the article, Patricia Boyle, Ph.D, who is a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s disease Center in Chicago, she pointed out that purpose is “a very robust predictor of health and wellness in old age.” In her research she found that purpose “also slowed the rate of cognitive decline by about 30%, which is a lot.”
After they followed 246 people who subsequently died and had autopsies, they found that many of the people with high purpose also showed the distinctive markers of Alzheimer’s disease, but did not show signs of that in their day to day life! “But even for people developing the plaques and tangles in their brains, having purpose in life allows you to tolerate them and still maintain your cognition,” said Dr. Boyle.
In another study researchers also found that those who have high purpose had approximately half the mortality of those with no purpose.
Dr. Boyle also went on to say that older people “want to make a contribution. They want to feel part of something that extends beyond themselves.” People who have a purpose “have a sense of their role in the community and the broader world she went on to say.
This information fits in very well with what I I have observed in my practice over the last several decades. I’ve observed that after people retire, if they don’t have a focus for their energies they usually get some chronic disease within five years.
To all my patients and readers who are aging baby boomers, or the children of parents who are part of the aging baby boomers, be sure to maintain a focus in the purpose for your life as you move into retirement age. These studies clearly show that this will help keep you young and vibrant and help protect you against Alzheimer’s disease.
Let me know your thoughts about this. Do you maintain a purpose in your life? After you retire what are you planning on doing with your life? I look forward to hearing from you.