Lack of purpose leads to cognitive decline in older adults, study finds

It’s kind of a chicken and egg question. Does getting older mentally contribute to a lack of purpose, or does not having purpose to your life contribute to cognitive decline?

Researchers have been exploring that problem for years. However, a new study conducted by Florida State University, and published by JAMA Network Open, suggests not having a sense of purpose contributes to the onset of cognitive decline.

As part of two separate studies, researchers evaluated nearly 33,000 people over 15 years. The findings suggest that purpose in life has a small, but accelerating, decline during the early stages of cognitive impairment.

“Accounting for demographic covariates and normative change in purpose, multilevel modeling indicated that standardized purpose in life declined significantly prior to onset of cognitive impairment,” the study explained.

In other words, the findings appear to suggest people who don’t pursue purpose later in life will start to experience cognitive impairment. Once those symptoms begin, then mental decline accelerates.

“The researchers found purpose in life decreased significantly in older adults prior to onset of cognitive impairment and declined significantly even more rapidly following onset of cognitive impairment,” McNights Long-Term Care News reported.

“The largest decline in purpose in life occurred following onset of cognitive impairment,” the researchers wrote. “Decline in purpose may be an additional consequence of neurodegeneration in addition to deficits in cognition.”

It’s a confusing topic. Sometimes, it appears cognitive decline can be brought on by medical conditions or hereditary tendencies. But, other times, it’s simply a matter of a brain not being used is a brain in decline.

When people over 50 invest a significant portion of their lives pursuing mind-numbing activities, like watching television all day or doomscrolling through social media and online news stories, they do not use their brains to create or to think.

The old slogan of the United Negro College Fund was, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

That applies to anyone who is not using his or her mind. Like a muscle, if it’s not used, it begins to weaken. Once someone gives up and feels his or her life serves no useful purpose, then the mental decline is rapid.

In response to the study, researchers suggested interventions may be necessary to increase feelings of purpose and reduce apathy in older adults to help slow cognitive decline and the onset of dementia, McKights reported.

Here’s my intervention. DO NOT allow your mind to go to waste. Find something you love to do and pursue it. If you can involve others in that activity, that’s even better.

Slowing down is inevitable as we get older. But, stopping is a choice we make.

Even if you can’t physically do a lot of activities, there are many things you can do to keep your mind sharp.

My grandmother lived to 98 and completed crossword puzzles every day until her eyesight finally failed. She was also an avid quilter who was always working on a gift for someone. In her spare time, she tended to her flower gardens and ensured the bird feeders were always full.

If you need help identifying a purpose for your life, just ask!

I’d be happy to have a complimentary brainstorming session with you. I’ll help you zero in on a purpose and determine the vital first steps for you to take to get started. Feel free to join the Forward From 50 Facebook community to connect with other men and women who are over 50 and living more purposeful lives.

Connect with me on our Contact Us page or on Facebook to set up an appointment.