Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Alzheimer's and a Meaningful Life

Earlier this week Dr. Scott Mendelson highlighted a new study on The Huffington Post that showed a link between Alzheimer's Disease and those with a strong purpose in life. "In the study they defined purpose in life as, 'The psychological tendency to derive meaning from life's experiences and to possess a sense of intentionality and goal directedness that guides behavior.' In other words, that your life means something and that you have a sense of control of it. They measured the sense of purpose in life by tallying up scores from a 10 item questionnaire that was given to the subjects in the test," he wrote.

Last night NBC Nightly News devoted a health segment to AD's increasing impact on minorities during its evening newscast. "Right now there's a diagnosis of Alzheimer's about every 70 seconds - a rate the [Alzheimers] Association says will double by the mid-century mark," anchor Brian Williams reported.

Much of the focus of medical research has been on physical health - such as sleep, exercise and diet. But more physicians like Dr. Mendelson now argue more needs to be made of connections between healthy attitudes and emotions as a way to keep many diseases, including Alzheimers and other dementia-related illnesses, at bay.

"Research has shown that people that have long histories of Major Depression are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's Dementia than those that do not. Reduction of stress further decreases the likelihood of dementia. Indeed, studies have shown that people who describe themselves as calm, relaxed, and self-satisfied can reduce their risk of Alzheimer's by one half."

Not only is finding a sense of purpose a way to remain healthy, but it's also among the most inexpensive prevention methods. Notes Dr. Mendelson:

"It is time that we return to simple, inexpensive, but effective measures to reduce the numbers of people who develop Alzheimer's, as well as to reduce the enormous financial burden on our country and families. Thus, the most important part of the finding that a sense of purpose can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's may be one that was not mentioned by the authors of the study. What they might have mentioned is the fact that a strong sense of purpose in life is absolutely free."