Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Purposeful Life May Stave Off Alzheimer's

People who say their lives have a purpose are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, a new study suggests. As the US population ages and dementia becomes a more frequent diagnosis, it is increasingly more important to find the causes of the disease, risk factors and how to hopefully prevent it.

The study looked at the positive aspects of life and their possible effect on keeping dementia at bay. The research looked at happiness, purposefulness in life, well-being and whether those concepts are associated with a decreased risk of dementia. The researchers asked a large group of elderly people how they felt about their life in general and their sense of purpose and direction in life.

After an average of four years of follow-up, 16.3% of the people in the study developed Alzheimer's disease. After excluding other causes for Alzheimer's, they 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. It's not known whether there is a biological reason for this finding, the researchers noted.

The researchers think that one possibility is that a person with high purpose in life might have a lower risk of developing dementia because of what's involved in a purposeful life. More social activity, more physical activity, higher cognitive activities, high purpose in life are psychosocial factors seem to be linked with longer life, decreased mortality, and decreased disability. They also are useful for helping to maintain independence in the elderly. However, one question raised by the research is whether lower sense of purpose contributes to Alzheimer's disease or is a lower sense of purpose an early, subtle, sign of dementia.

What is a purposeful life? That is hard to define. What do you think your life purpose is? Where do or could you bring your unique gifts to the needs of those around you in the world? Purposefulness is being more self reflective. What goals do I have? How am I contributing to the greater good of my family, community and the world? Do you take time every day just for yourself – time to contemplate what you did right or wrong today? What did I do for others that made their lives better?

Here are some ways to start bringing more purpose to your life:
· Make time for contemplative practices each day – meditation, prayer, etc. is when you take time to clear your mind so that it is easier to see the path before you.
· Have meaningful connections with other people. And this means real life people. Not people online or in chat rooms. People who can listen to you and truly be supportive of you. People who you can call on to help you when you are in need.
· Have a spiritual community that provides help and support. This can mean either a religious community or simply a community of people who feel the same as you on moral issues.
· Live by your values. There is a difference between knowing what is right and wrong and actually living those values consistently every day of your life.
· Have a strong, fulfilling spiritual faith. You don’t have to believe in any specific religion to have faith in something greater than yourself. Explore various religions and concepts and find one that fits your mental and spiritual needs.
· Have ways to cope with activities that are life-draining. When we don’t have good coping skills we fall into alcohol, tobacco, eating, sex or any other activity that is addictive. We get stressed, we smoke, eat, etc. The stress still remains and is only resolved when we develop better coping skills.
· Feel that you are contributing your gifts to your family or community in a satisfying and helpful way. We all need positive feedback – not every single time we do something for our community – but make sure that if you are never getting any positive energy back for what you are contributing, and then re-think what you are doing. You may need to change your friends, environment, etc.

"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know, the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." Albert Schweitzer – scholar, religious leader, physician, missionary and Nobel prize winner.

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