Purpose in life may protect against harmful changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease

May 7, 2012

Greater purpose in life may help stave off the harmful effects of plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center. The study, published in the May issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, is available online.

"Our study showed that people who reported greater purpose in life exhibited better cognition than those with less purpose in life even as plaques and tangles accumulated in their brains," said Patricia A. Boyle, PhD.

"These findings suggest that purpose in life protects against the harmful effects of plaques and tangles on memory and other thinking abilities. This is encouraging and suggests that engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities promotes in old age."

Boyle and her colleagues from the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center studied 246 participants from the Rush Memory and Aging Project who did not have dementia and who subsequently died and underwent brain autopsy. Participants received an annual clinical evaluation for up to approximately 10 years, which included detailed cognitive testing and neurological exams.

Participants also answered questions about purpose in life, the degree to which one derives meaning from life's experiences and is focused and intentional. and tangles were quantified after death. The authors then examined whether purpose in life slowed the rate of even as older persons accumulated plaques and tangles.

While plaques and tangles are very common among persons who develop Alzheimer's dementia (characterized by prominent and changes in other thinking abilities), recent data suggest that plaques and tangles accumulate in most older persons, even those without dementia. Plaques and tangles disrupt memory and other cognitive functions.

Boyle and colleagues note that much of the Alzheimer's research that is ongoing seeks to identify ways to prevent or limit the accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain, a task that has proven quite difficult. Studies such as the current one are needed because, until effective preventive therapies are discovered, strategies that minimize the impact of plaques and tangles on cognition are urgently needed.

"These studies are challenging because many factors influence cognition and research studies often lack the brain specimen data needed to quantify Alzheimer's changes in the brain," Boyle said. "Identifying factors that promote cognitive health even as plaques and tangles accumulate will help combat the already large and rapidly increasing public health challenge posed by Alzheimer's disease."

Explore further: Study reveals link between high cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease

More information: www.archgenpsychiatry.com

Related Stories

Study reveals link between high cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease

September 12, 2011
People with high cholesterol may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the September 13, 2011, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Studies: Memory declines faster in years closest to death

April 4, 2012
Two new studies published in the April 4 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggest that a person's memory declines at a faster rate in the last two-and-a-half years of life ...

Recommended for you

Dementia with Lewy bodies: Unique genetic profile identified

December 15, 2017
Dementia with Lewy bodies has a unique genetic profile, distinct from those of Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease, according to the first large-scale genetic study of this common type of dementia.

Major cause of dementia discovered

December 11, 2017
An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of a major cause of dementia, with important implications for possible treatment and diagnosis.

Canola oil linked to worsened memory and learning ability in Alzheimer's

December 7, 2017
Canola oil is one of the most widely consumed vegetable oils in the world, yet surprisingly little is known about its effects on health. Now, a new study published online December 7 in the journal Scientific Reports by researchers ...

Genetics study suggests that education reduces risk of Alzheimer's disease

December 7, 2017
The theory that education protects against Alzheimer's disease has been given further weight by new research from the University of Cambridge, funded by the European Union. The study is published today in the BMJ.

Healthy mitochondria could stop Alzheimer's

December 6, 2017
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and neurodegeneration worldwide. A major hallmark of the disease is the accumulation of toxic plaques in the brain, formed by the abnormal aggregation of a protein called ...

Alzheimer's damage in mice reduced with compound that targets APOE gene

December 6, 2017
People who carry the APOE4 genetic variant face a substantial risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.