Sense of Purpose Linked with Lower Dementia Risk

Getting up each day with a purpose can help you be more productive and be a good step in achieving your goals. A new study finds that it may also lower your risk of dementia.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) recently examined how positive psychological constructs could impact a person’s future chances of developing dementia. They looked at factors including a positive mood, optimism, and a sense of purpose. The findings, published in the journal Ageing Research Reviews, show that having a purpose is associated with a marked decrease in dementia risk.


Georgia Bell, first author and UCL Ph.D. student, says, “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.”

To investigate the link between positive psychological constructs and dementia risk, researchers looked at eight previous studies comprised of more than 62,000 older adults across three continents. In so doing, they found that a higher purpose or meaning in life was significantly linked with a reduced risk of several types of cognitive impairment, including dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Additionally, there was a 19% lower rate of clinically significant cognitive impairment in those with a sense of a purpose. However, they did not find a link between positivity and lower dementia risk, though there may be a connection with optimism. There wasn’t enough evidence to confirm that, though.


The team says that there could be several reasons that a purpose in life provides such benefits. That includes past research showing that a purpose is linked with reduced brain inflammation and that it may help with recovering from stressful events. Further, people with a purpose may be more apt to do things that protect against dementia risk, like exercise and social activities.

The team hopes their findings can guide dementia prevention programs in a new direction.

Dr. Joshua Stott, lead author from UCL Psychology & Language Sciences, says the “findings suggest that dementia prevention programs for at-risk groups that focus on well-being could benefit by prioritizing activities that bring purpose and meaning to people’s lives, rather than just hedonistic activities that might increase positive mood states. This may involve helping people to identify what is of value to them and then taking small steps to act in line with that value; for example, if environmentalism is important to someone, they might benefit from helping in a community garden.”

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