Greater purpose in life may protect against Alzheimer

Washington: Having a greater objective in life may help cut down a person`s risk of developing Alzheimer`s disease later in life, say scientists.

A team at Rush University Medical Center says greater purpose in life actually helps stave off the harmful changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer`s, the most common form of dementia, the `Archives of General Psychiatry` reported.

Team leader Patricia A Boyle 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. This is encouraging and suggests that engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities promotes cognitive health in old age."

The scientists have based their findings on an analysis of 246 participants without dementia and who subsequently died and underwent brain autopsy. Participants received an annual clinical evaluation for up to approximately 10 years, which included detailed cognitive testing and neurological exams.

The participants also answered questions about purpose in life, the degree to which one derives meaning from life`s experiences and is focused and intentional. The scientists then examined whether purpose in life slowed rate of cognitive decline even as older persons accumulated plaques and tangles.

Brain plaques and tangles, very common among persons who develop Alzheimer`s, are quantified after death. These disrupt memory and other cognitive functions.

The scientists claim 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. "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," Boyle said in a release.

"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," she added.