Summary: Living life with a sense of purpose was associated with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias later in life. Researchers found a sense of purpose was associated with a 19% reduced rate of clinically significant cognitive impairment.
Feeling a sense of purpose or meaning in life is associated with a lower risk of dementia years later, finds a new review of evidence led by UCL researchers.
The academics were looking at whether positive psychological constructs, which also included positive mood and optimism and found that purpose and meaning in life were the key factors consistently associated with reduced risk, they report in Ageing Research Reviews.
Positive mood was not associated with reduced risk, but optimism may be – there was just not enough evidence to properly evaluate this.
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 associated with 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 evidence 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.
Lead author Dr Joshua Stott (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) said: “Our findings suggest that dementia prevention programmes for at-risk groups that focus on wellbeing could benefit by prioritising 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.”
First author, PhD student Georgia Bell (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) said: “Trying to live in line with what is meaningful to you appears to have multiple health benefits – here we have found that a sense of purpose may reduce the risk of dementia, adding to other evidence linking meaningful living to improved mental health and reduced risk of disability and heart disease.”
Funding: The study was supported by the Alzheimer’s Society.
About this dementia and aging research news
Author: Chris Lane Source: UCL Contact: Chris Lane – UCL Image: The image is in the public domain
Positive psychological constructs and association with reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis
Understanding factors associated with dementia risk is important for informing future interventions aimed at dementia prevention. There is accumulating evidence for the association between depression and risk of dementia, however less is known about the association between positive psychological factors and dementia incidence.
This review aims to synthesise evidence regarding the association between positive psychological constructs (PPCs) and later risk of MCI and dementia in adults aged 50 and over.
Literature searches were conducted in Medline, PsycINFO, and Scopus until March 2021. Papers reporting on the association between at least one PPC and later risk of MCI or dementia in people aged 50 + without cognitive impairment at baseline were included.
Results from the meta-analyses revealed that purpose in life was significantly associated with a reduced risk of dementia (HR = 0.81, 95% CI [0.78, 0.85], p < .001), however results for positive affect were non-significant (HR = 0.94, 95% CI [0.76, 1.15], p = .54). Results for other PPCs are described narratively. Mixed findings for different PPCs highlight the importance of investigating these factors individually.
Understanding which factors may play a protective role in their association with risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia could have important implications for informing dementia prevention interventions.