Aging Well

This One Secret Protects You from Alzheimer’s

June 7, 2016

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. 

13 Comments

  • Reply Kathy June 8, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Great hope! I guess still working helps!

  • Reply Suzy Godfrey June 8, 2016 at 10:19 am

    Great post! My children tease me about how many times I’ve retired, but keep going back to part-time work! I love interacting with people and I work for” Visiting Angels”. Only 12 hours a week but it is soooo rewarding and keeps me active, in body and spirit.

    • Reply Katy June 8, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      That’s wonderful! Helping people seems like the perfect purpose in life to have.

  • Reply Kathy June 8, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    This makes sense to me, and is something I think about a lot. We are living longer and once the kids are gone and our career starts to wind down, its time to ask ‘what’s next?’ I think i’ll get the book, sounds like a good read.

    • Reply Katy June 8, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Yes, we’re really not retiring these days as much as we’re just moving on to our second career. You should definitely get the book – it’s fascinating.

  • Reply Rev June 9, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    What interesting information! A purpose in life. I knew it was important but I didn’t know it was that big of a deal. I’m glad I found out now so I don’t waste the rest of my life binge-watching Netflix. Wait. Is that a purpose?

    • Reply Katy June 9, 2016 at 3:05 pm

      If you binge watch and then blog about it, it can become your purpose! Kinda like I did with sitting around reading 🙂

  • Reply Rosemonf June 9, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    My grandmother lived to be 96 and sharp that the end. She played the piano in church every Sunday and I have always believed that her commitment to that kept her sharp and tuned in to life.

    • Reply Katy June 9, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      I’m sure it did. I’ve read other studies about how music in particular keeps your brain sharp. How lucky you were able to have your grandmother for so long.

  • Reply Andrea@WellnessNotes June 11, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    This makes a lot of sense! It’s so important to have a reason for getting up! Thanks for sharing!

    Andrea
    Andrea’s Wellness Notes

  • Reply Lori @ TheHealthMinded.com June 17, 2016 at 8:58 am

    So true! Keep the brain active. We just had my husband’s 97-year-old grandmother visiting us and we took her to New York City for the weekend because she was begging us to do so. She walked all around, laughed, talked to everyone, spend time with my grown daughters there! She has always had a purpose and is a true inspiration. Still drives, cooks, and plays bridge several times a week. Great post!

  • Reply Gilly Maddison July 10, 2016 at 3:22 am

    Interesting post – I can see how keeping a purpose in life would help. Ok- so I won’t stop the renlentless pursuit of becoming so wealthy that I can sit around doing nothing (except that after reading this, when I get there, I won’t sit around doing nothing after all!) 🙂

    • Reply Katy July 10, 2016 at 9:06 am

      Perhaps pursuing wealth can be your purpose – that sounds lovely to me. 🙂

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