Purpose in life is associated with a substantial reduction in risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but the brain changes associated with this effect are unknown. The authors of this study assessed Alzheimer-related pathological changes, amyloid and tangles in 246 community-based elderly subjects. A longitudinal, epidemiologic study was conducted that included detailed annual clinical evaluations and brain autopsy. The results showed that participants who reported higher levels of purpose in life exhibited better cognitive function despite the burden of the disease.
Purpose in life reduced the association of tangles with cognition and the protective effect persisted even after controlling for several potentially confounding variables such as depressive symptoms and neuroticism. Controlling for social networks did not affect the authors’ findings even though previous studies have shown that social networks modified the association of Alzheimer pathological characteristics with cognition. Higher levels of purpose in life also reduced the effect of Alzheimer pathologic changes on the rate of cognitive decline in this study.
Boyle PA, Buchman AS, Wilson RS, Yu L, Schneider JA, Bennett DA: Effect of Purpose in Life on the Relation between Alzheimer Disease Pathological Changes on Cognitive Function in Advanced Age. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 69 (5): 499-506 (2012).