A new study published in the March issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry looked at the positive aspects of life and their possible effect on keeping dementia at bay.
Researchers collected data on older people without dementia who were asked to respond to 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 four years of follow-up, 16.3 percent of the people in the study developed Alzheimer’s disease. Taking into account other factors that could account for Alzheimer’s, the researchers found that people who responded most positively to statements about their lives were the least likely to develop the condition. Also, people who said they had more purposeful lives were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment and had a slower rate of cognitive decline.
People who scored 4.2 out of 5 on the purpose-in-life measure were about 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people who scored 3.0, the study found.
It’s not known whether there is a biological reason for this finding, the researchers noted. “One possibility is that, truly, somebody with high purpose in life might have a lower risk of developing dementia because of what’s involved in purpose in life,” one medical researcher said.
“As the population ages and dementia becomes a more frequent diagnosis, there’s increasing impetus to determine the causes of the disease,” explains Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Associatioon for Long-Term Care Insurance. ”If happiness and living a purposefulness in life are associated with a decreased risk of dementia, then this is worth knowing.”
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