Study Shows Sense of Purpose Benefits Healthy Aging
If you haven't yet found your sense of purpose in life, now is the time to start looking. A group of researchers at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago found a strong relationship between having a greater purpose and lower mortality in elderly people without dementia living in the community.
Patricia Boyle, PhD, principal investigator of the study, defined "purpose in life" as the tendency to derive meaning from life's experiences and to be focused and intentional. The study involved 1,238 seniors who were already enrolled in two other long-term studies.
"The finding that purpose in life is related to longevity in older persons suggests that aspects of human flourishing—particularly the tendency to derive meaning from life's experiences and possess a sense of intentionality and goal-directedness—contribute to successful aging," said Boyle.
After adjusting for age, sex, education and race, a higher purpose of life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of mortality. A person with high purpose in life was about half as likely to die over the follow-up period compared to a person with low purpose. The association of purpose in life with mortality did not differ among men and women, whites and blacks, and the finding continued to exist even after controlling for depression, disability, neuroses, number of medical conditions and income.
The researchers evaluated the study participants with a questionnaire about their purpose in life at the beginning of the study, and up to five years of follow-up. The average follow-up was for 2.7 years. Subjects were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with three statements linked to mortality:
- "I sometimes feel as if I’ve done all there is to do in life."
- "I used to set goals for myself, but that now seems like a waste of time."
- "My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me."
The researchers hope that future studies will investigate possible interventions to help foster a sense of purpose in life in older people.
To learn more about the study, visit the Rush University Medical Center website.
Report courtesy of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging.