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July 18, 2022

How to Preserve Brain Function

Purposeful living may buffer you against change.

Volunteering, helping others, and engaging in a pastime may appear to be everyday activities. However, a new study suggests that engaging in meaningful activities in old age improves cognitive health. The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Despite the formation of aberrant protein depositions (amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) in the brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, participants who reported higher levels of purpose in life had a superior cognitive function.

Dr. Gad Marshall, a behavioural neurologist at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, says, "The authors provide excellent evidence that having a purpose makes it possible to survive more Alzheimer's disease pathology without as much cognitive impairment."

  

The advantages of having a purpose

The study included 246 older people who did not have dementia at the time of the study's start. The participants were given annual clinical examinations for an average of ten years, which included cognitive testing and questions about their life's purpose. When they died, postmortem examinations were performed to check for evidence of Alzheimer's disease in the brain, such as minute plaques and tangles. Some plaques and tangles are seen in the brains of older adults who do not have Alzheimer's disease symptoms, but those who do have the condition have more.

According to the findings, people who appear to get meaning from life and are focused on the future have higher cognitive performance and fewer dementia symptoms.
 
According to Dr. Marshall, "I think this is an intriguing and hopeful study because it suggests that even when some of the pathological abnormalities in the brain are present, certain mental attitudes may provide some protection against the dementia of Alzheimer's disease." He continues by saying that while having a clear-cut purpose in life may help to postpone or divert symptoms, it is unlikely to have an impact on the growth and spread of plaques and tangles in the brain.
 
Keeping the mind occupied 
According to Dr. Marshall, we don't know exactly how having a deeper purpose in life impacts the brain. However, people with more purpose in life develop more connections in the brain, which gives protection against various assaults to the brain, such as those that cause Alzheimer's disease, he continues.
 
It's also unclear whether this kind of protection is solely available to people who have had a strong sense of purpose in life for decades, or if finding purpose for the first time in your later years can also help you maintain your cognitive function. "It is perhaps never too late," Dr


Marshall speculates.
 
Live your life as if it were your last. 
So, if you don't already, how do you live with a sense of purpose? Join in the effort to serve others by volunteering at a library, hospital, school, or nonprofit organization. Attend movies, plays, or sporting events with friends; travel with friends; babysit grandchildren; and participate in hobbies such as gardening. Learn a new talent, such as painting, gourmet cuisine, or playing a musical instrument, to keep your brain active.

The study's message is based on science, not religion: doing things you enjoy and learning new things can make your life better and protect your brain function at the same time.

Source: Harvard Health

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Photo by Olya Kobruseva
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