You've heard the phrase: Get a life. Well, better yet: Get a purpose in life.
The following comments are edited excerpts of an interview with Patricia A. Boyle, a neuropsychologist and researcher for the Rush Memory and Aging Project who is also an associate professor at the medical center.
What role does having a purpose in life play as we age?
DR. BOYLE: Our study showed that having purpose in life is robustly protective. Those who reported having purpose in life showed a 30% slower rate of cognitive decline than those who did not. Having purpose reduced the risk of Alzheimer's and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment. Even those whose brains had the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's had better cognitive brain function. It's a remarkable finding.
Why and how does having purpose provide these benefits?
DR. BOYLE: We don't know exactly how, but we think that people who are purposeful are actively pursuing goals, and by virtue of doing this they are enhancing their brains, either bringing in or developing other areas of the brain.
In addition, if you're pursuing goals, you're probably engaging in a whole host of behaviors that we know to be beneficial for health, such as being socially involved and connected to other people and going out and being physically active.How does this translate into the actual things people do and how they live their lives?
DR. BOYLE: There are so many ways. Philanthropic types of activities, such as volunteering at a food bank, and finding ways of helping others. Maintaining connections with family and friends. One woman who is essentially homebound writes a letter to someone every day, often a note of appreciation. it keeps her social connections active and it gives her something to look forward to.
Many people decide to become mentors. They have a lot of wisdom as a consequence of their having done so much in their lives, and they want to pass along that knowledge to others. Other people want to accomplish new things. They learn a new language or take up a new area of study, even at the age of 80.
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