Purpose in Life Linked to Cognitive Outcomes in Dementia Patients

Purpose in Life Linked to Cognitive Outcomes in Dementia Patients

A recent study published in JAMA Network Open has examined the changes in an individual’s purpose in life before and after the onset of cognitive impairment. Purpose in life has been identified as a critical component of psychological well-being, and it is defined as the feeling that one’s life is goal-oriented, meaningful, and has direction. Previous research has shown a relationship between purpose and cognitive ability, with individuals who report a higher sense of purpose performing better on cognitive tasks.

In individuals with dementia, having a purpose in life may help reduce or delay dementia-related apathy. Engaging in social or creative activities has been recommended for individuals with dementia at all stages and ages, as it can support their overall health.

The study used data from two large population-based longitudinal studies: the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS). The researchers observed modest reductions in purpose in life before the development of cognitive impairment, with more significant declines reported during cognitive impairment. Specifically, the purpose in life decreased by about 10% of a standard deviation in the decade preceding cognitive impairment.

Interestingly, changes in apathy and purpose were different from those reported in previous studies, possibly because the participants in this study were still relatively active and able to report their feelings despite their low level of cognitive impairment.

The findings suggest that alterations in self-reported purpose prior to impairment may be too small to detect an imminent impairment accurately. However, the study contributes to the understanding of purpose in life and its natural history in the context of cognitive impairment. Future research is needed to explore how purpose can be supported during cognitive impairment and the recovery phase.

The study was strengthened by its use of two independent samples, large sample sizes, and repeated longitudinal assessments. However, limitations include the focus on earlier stages of cognitive impairment, the use of performance-based measures to identify impairment, and the limited number of assessments.

Despite these limitations, sustaining purpose in life could have implications for cognitive health both before and during cognitive impairment. Additional studies should explore how purpose can be supported and whether these findings are generalizable to more diverse populations.

– Sutin, A. R., Luchetti, M., Stephan, Y., et al. (2023) Change in Purpose in Life Before and After Onset of Cognitive Impairment. JAMA Network Open 6(9). doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.33489

All Rights Reserved 2021.
| .