I just finished Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty. It’s a fascinating book: full of tips on how to navigate midlife as we lay the groundwork for transitioning to the second half of our lives. She shares a lot of good information that I enjoyed reading – particularly about the importance of working to maintain our friendships as we age – but the most important information I got from her book was something I had never read before: when it comes to Alzheimer’s, the disease that rightly strikes fear in the heart of every midlife person, biology is by no means destiny.
As it turns out, several studies have followed people who agreed to have their cognitive abilities tested as they grew older and then have an autopsy performed to test for Alzheimer’s when they died (still the only way to truly diagnose the disease). To the amazement of the researchers, they consistently found that at least a third of the subjects with the distinctive plaque that is a marker of the disease showed no mental impairment during their lifetimes.
So what protected these people from their supposedly inevitable mental decline? Was it regular exercise, good nutrition, good music and a good woman as my dad might have said? Well, those things helped, but the number one attribute people who escaped dementia had in common was a purpose in life.
It might have been Saturday morning language lessons, or a passion for race walking, or even a strong love for their grandchildren but these folks had a reason to get up every day and so they were motivated to keep their brains sharp to continue to enjoy their passion. They were so motivated by what they loved that their brains compensated for the damage caused by the plaque growing on it from Alzheimer’s. Their brains overcame their destiny.
That’s powerful stuff. And encouraging. Because if you’re in midlife now, this is the perfect time to find or start enjoying your passion. Your mind may depend on it.