Being motivated and having a goal in life 'can stave off effects of Alzheimer's'
Positive effects of having a meaningful life found to counteract effects of damage to brainMost older people have plaques on brain but not all develop Alzheimer's, indicating that having purpose could play a role in development of the disease
21:23 GMT, 7 May 2012
Researchers have found that a greater sense of purpose in life may help stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Study leader Doctor Patricia Boyle, of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said: 'Our study showed that people who reported greater purpose in life exhibited better cognition than those with less purpose in life even as plaques and tangles accumulated in their brains.
'These findings suggest that purpose in life protects against the harmful effects of plaques and tangles on memory and other thinking abilities.
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'This is encouraging and suggests that engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities promotes cognitive health in old age.'
Dr Boyle and her colleagues studied 246 people who did not have dementia and who subsequently died and underwent brain autopsy.
They received an annual clinical evaluation for up to 10 years, which included detailed cognitive testing and neurological exams.
The people taking part also answered questions about purpose in life, the degree to which one derives meaning from life’s experiences and is focused and intentional.
Brain plaques and tangles were quantified after death. The research team then examined whether purpose in life slowed the rate of cognitive decline even as older people accumulated plaques and tangles.
While plaques and tangles are very common among people who develop Alzheimer’s dementia – characterised by prominent memory loss and changes in other thinking abilities – recent data suggest that plaques and tangles accumulate in most older people, even those without dementia. Plaques and tangles disrupt memory and other cognitive functions.
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Dr Boyle’s team noted that much of the Alzheimer’s research that is ongoing seeks to identify ways to prevent or limit the accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain, a task that has proven quite difficult.
Studies such as the current one are needed because, until effective preventive therapies are discovered, strategies that minimise the impact of plaques and tangles on cognition are urgently needed.
She added: 'These studies are challenging because many factors influence cognition and research studies often lack the brain specimen data needed to quantify Alzheimer’s changes in the brain.
'Identifying factors that promote cognitive health even as plaques and tangles accumulate will help combat the already large and rapidly increasing public health challenge posed by Alzheimer’s disease.'
The study was published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.