Seniors with a Sense of Purpose Live Longer- Also Can Help Slow Alzheimer’s
What gets you up in the morning? What force drives you to accomplish your goals?
Is it sleep? Is it the food that you eat or your exercise routine? Although proper rest, diet and regular workouts are important to focus on- when you think about where we draw our strength from, the source seems to be inside of our minds. It is our purpose that motivates us to rise out of our beds in the morning.
Our purpose as a parent, a healer, an educator, as a husband or wife.
For those of us with a life mission or purpose that fulfills our needs, everyday is a new adventure filled with vitality and excitement. But what happens as we grow older? When we accomplish our larger goals, retire from our careers, or become stagnant and bored?
When a senior watches their children leave the nest and they no longer have an office to report to daily, they often can lose a sense of purpose in life. A strong sense of purpose keeps us happy and motivated but it also has major implications on our physical health.
How A Sense of Purpose Affects Health
When an individual has a sense of purpose, they are emotionally charged and likely much more physically engaged than another person who feels their life has little meaning. With a strong sense of purpose, a person is also much more likely to pay more attention to their health issues and experience less stress daily.
“Purposeful individuals tend to be less reactive to stressors and more engaged, generally, in their daily lives, which can promote cognitive and physical health,” -Patrick Hill, Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences -Washington University
When purpose is lost and an individual begins to move less and use their brains less, inflammation can quickly spread throughout the body. Stress, inflammation, and inactivity in a senior can lead to a whole host of issues including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Higher risk of heart disease and stroke
- Shorter life expectancy
- Cognitive impairments
The Power of Purpose
There is strong evidence that suggests older adults that identified as having a “sense of purpose” in life tended to retain their walking speed and grip strength which is incredibly important as we age to avoid dangerous falls. Walking speed and grip strength are also key indicators of how rapidly a person is aging.
It is not only the body that retains strength with purpose. It appears that the brain remains healthier in older individuals with “purpose”, with smaller areas of dead tissue and more consistent blood flow. We also know that tissue damage in the brain boosts the risk of dementia, movement issues and a many of the other classic characteristics of aging.
“We know that negative emotional states like feeling bad, alone or sad are associated with a lot of negative health outcomes, whether or not you actually are alone or why you may be feeling badly,” said study co-author Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.
How to Find a Sense of Purpose
It is evident that a sense of purpose in a seniors life can mitigate and prevent common health issues, with the potential to even help those who already have Alzheimer’s. If you know a senior who seems to lack a sense of purpose, there are several tactics you can use to help bring a spark back into their life.
There are many seniors who rediscover a new sense of purpose in old age by helping others. In our core, humans naturally enjoy giving back to others. Earlier in life, a busy career or raising children may get in the way of helping others. Look for a local organization that has several other senior volunteers so that your loved one may also connect with others while giving back through volunteer services.
- New Hobby
Taking up a new hobby can completely transform a seniors life, especially if the hobby gets their body moving. Hobbies that involve strategy are also extremely powerful when attempting to fight the effects of an aging brain. A chess league or a walking club would be great places to start on the journey of finding a new passion.
- Reconnect with Family
Just because a seniors children have “left the nest” doesn’t mean that a senior cannot gain meaningful purpose from other areas of the family. Look to introduce a struggling senior with grandchildren or cousins. There are few things that are as strong as a family generated bond- a relationship with a grandchild will ignite purpose into a senior.
Another alternative to an empty nest is to bring another, furrier companion into the home. A new dog can be an amazing companion for a lonely senior, however cats tend to come with less maintenance. Once a senior becomes responsible for the health and wellbeing of another, even if it is simply a pet, massive purpose will be created in their life.
Finding a sense of purpose is one of the best medicines that can be called upon in old age. Even for those who have not reached their senior years yet, purpose can be the difference between a life full of love and passion and a life of loneliness and depression.
Looking for further ways to create purpose in a loved one’s life? Contact our team today for a free consultation to see if any of our services may be a good fit for your family member or friend!