In a study from UCL Psychology & Language Sciences, scientists found that feeling a sense of purpose or meaning in life is associated with a lower risk of dementia years later.
They found that purpose and meaning in life were the key factors consistently associated with reduced risk.
Positive mood was not associated with reduced risk, but optimism may be—there was just not enough evidence to properly evaluate this.
In the study, the researchers reviewed evidence from eight previously published papers which included data from 62,250 older adults across three continents.
They found that higher purpose or meaning in life was significantly associated with a reduced risk of multiple cognitive impairment outcomes, including dementia and mild cognitive impairment; notably, a sense of purpose is linked to a 19% reduced rate of clinically significant cognitive impairment.
Importantly, this was not the case for other positive psychological constructs, for example, simply having a positive mood state.
Previous research suggests that purpose in life may hold benefits to recovering from stressful evidence and is associated with reduced inflammation in the brain, both of which may be associated with reduced risk of dementia.
Further, people with a higher sense of purpose in life may also be more likely to engage in activities such as exercise and social involvement, which may protect against dementia risk.
These findings suggest that dementia prevention programs for at-risk groups that focus on well-being could benefit by prioritizing activities that bring purpose and meaning to people’s lives, rather than just hedonistic activities that might increase positive mood states.
This may involve helping people to identify what is of value to them and then taking small steps to act in line with that value; for example, if environmentalism is important to someone, they might benefit from helping in a community garden.
The team says that trying to live in line with what is meaningful to a person appears to have multiple health benefits, adding to other evidence linking meaningful living to improved mental health and reduced risk of disability and heart disease.
If you care about dementia, please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and flavonoid-rich foods could help prevent dementia.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that cranberries could help boost memory, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.
The study was conducted by Dr. Joshua Stott et al and published in Ageing Research Reviews.
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