Being Purpose-Driven Boosts Seniors’ Brain Health

Posted by Meghan Orner on November 30, 2015

Being Purpose-Driven Boosts Seniors’ Brain Health

For years many have supported the idea that one’s cognitive health directly impacts one’s overall health, and now numerous studies are proving that there is in fact a mind-body connection. One such study coming from one of the top-ranked medical institutions in the nation revealed that being purpose-driven boosts seniors’ brain health and leads to a decreased risk in experiencing various forms of cognitive decline, including dementia and movement difficulties.

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The Power of a Purpose

This study led by Rush University Medical Center analyzed 453 autopsy results (the average age at death was 90). Those who volunteered for this Rush Memory and Aging Project had both psychological and physical evaluations every year. The participants, none of whom had dementia at the beginning of the study, agreed to donate their organs after death, which allowed the researchers to look for any infarcts, or damaged tissues resulting from a loss in blood supply.

Out of the total 453 participants, over 200 had visible infarcts while close to half had infarcts that were only visible when looking at the tissue under a microscope. However, after analyzing these results, the team of researchers determined that those seniors who had a sense of purpose were 44 percent less likely to have visible infarcts, leading to a decreased risk in stroke, dementia, disability and movement difficulties.

Associate professor of behavioral sciences at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and co-author of the study Patricia Boyle said, “Mental health, in particular positive psychological factors such as having a purpose in life, are emerging as very potent determinants of health outcomes.” She also notes that caregivers should encourage their loved ones to engage in activities that will support and grow their sense of purpose and other positive emotions.

Staying Motivated

So if being purpose-driven boosts seniors’ brain health, how can you go about experiencing these benefits? Below are some simple ways you can do just that, regardless of your age:

  • Volunteering. Volunteering is perhaps one of the best activities out there. After all, you’re not only benefiting your health, but you’re also offering help to those in need. Volunteering actually comes with many other health benefits besides an improved brain health, such as longevity and fewer movement difficulties. For seniors, the optimal amount of time spent volunteering is about two to three hours a week.
  • Taking courses. Why reminisce about your old school days when you can attend a college class? Enroll at a local college, or if you’re worried about the commute, even an online course could motivate you. Just like any other muscle in our bodies, it is important that you engage in regular brain-stimulating activities – you’re never too young to exercise your brain!
  • Getting involved in the community. Similar to volunteering, this could be a great way to benefit your health. An added bonus: getting involved in your community is a great way to maintain an active and social lifestyle. After all, you may meet a neighbor who would be able to get your mail when you’re away on vacation or help you shovel your walkway in the winter.

Especially after this study, it can hard to deny the power of the mind-body connection, and the best part is that it is up to you to decide what motivates you. No matter what it is, the key is finding what motivates you and engaging in that activity or behavior regularly. 


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