Having a sense of purpose in life has been linked with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment, including dementia.
Researchers from University College London (UCL) reviewed evidence from eight previously published studies and found that higher purpose or meaning in life was associated with a 19% reduction in clinically significant impairment.
The study, published in Ageing Research Reviews, suggests that promoting a sense of purpose in life could help inform dementia prevention interventions.
By examining data from 62 250 older adults across three continents, the researchers determined whether purpose and meaning in life, positive attitudes, optimism and life satisfaction were associated with the risk of dementia and reduced cognitive impairment.
There is currently a growing body of evidence linking depression and the risk of dementia. Less is known about the association between positive physiological factors and the incidence of dementia. Understanding these findings will be essential when looking after patients with dementia and reducing or preventing dementia and cognitive impairment.
Although the review highlighted the association between having meaning in life and a reduced risk of dementia, other positive physiological states, such as positive outlook or mood, were not associated with reduced risk. Findings were mixed for optimism and life satisfaction and there was not enough evidence to properly evaluate the impact at this stage.
Lead author Dr Joshua Stott from UCL 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.’
Having a purpose in life has been previously shown to help in recovery from stressful life events and is associated with reduced inflammation in the brain, both of which may help reduce cognitive impairment. In addition, people who have a sense of purpose may be more likely to participate in exercise or social activities which may help protect against dementia.
First author, Georgia Bell, a PhD student at UCL, 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.’