The Interesting Link Between Life Purpose and Your Brain

What’s your life purpose? That’s a question only you can answer, and one that can change often throughout the course of your life. When you’re younger, your purpose could be to build a career or do your part in making the world a better place. As you get older, it could be building a happy, healthy family, or setting up things in order to have a life and retirement you can enjoy for years to come. Once you’ve retired and are in your senior years, finding a purpose is still important – perhaps even more so than when you’re younger.

Having a purpose in life, especially in your later years, can potentially lower your risk of brain-tissue damage and cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. We’ve known for a while that keeping your brain active in your senior years helps boost cognitive function, improves moods and helps keep seniors physically active. It turns out that having a philosophical approach to life – that is, finding a higher purpose and a reason to continue to learn, strive and reach – also plays a huge role in keeping us healthy and engaged.


The idea of the “cognitive reserve” may be linked to why purpose and brain health are so closely linked. Cognitive reserve is the buildup of connections between our brain’s neurons – the more of them we have and the more active they are, the easier it is for us to battle cognitive decline.


Staying curious and engaging in lifelong learning helps our brains stay elastic and nimble. Just as we build and maintain our muscle strength by participating in physical activity, exercising our brains this way helps us stay sharp and protect against dementia and other memory issues.


The Benefits to Your Brain of Living Purposefully

On a high level, having a purpose helps us age well. But what does that mean exactly? We’ve put together some of the ways that having purpose helps you age better, feel better and live better – as well as help you improve the lives of the people around you.


Your brain “ages” better.

Our brains, like the rest of our bodies, change as we get older. Harvard Medical School lists ways that our brain physically changes: the hippocampus shrinks (which is responsible for motivation, learning and memory), while the myelin sheath (which protects our nerve fibers) wears down. In other words, our ability to think slows down and it becomes harder for us to remember things that have happened to us recently. However, having purpose can help slow down those effects. In a study of senior participants ages 70 to 103, researchers found that people with a higher sense of purpose in life have better self-rated health, lower levels of functional disability, and perform better on tests of processing and memory speed than individuals who report not having a sense of purpose.


It makes us more open and excited about new experiences.

In a study of sedentary overweight and obese individuals, researchers discovered that people who reported having a greater sense of purpose in life were more open and wiling to receive (and act upon) messages that helped encourage them to become more physically active. When their brains were surveyed, these people with life purpose had less activity in the areas of their brain that play a role in conflict processing – in other words, they experienced lower conflict in the decision-making process, which made them more open-minded and willing to accept health advice.


It reduces the risk of cognitive decline.

In numerous studies, researchers have found that individuals who have a sense of purpose in life have a significantly reduced incidence of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive impairment. In fact, having a sense of purpose played a more important role than emotional health, social network size and a variety of other medical conditions.


Ways To Find Purpose in Retirement

If you’re currently searching for your life’s goal or higher purpose, don’t fret. It’s never too late to find something that fills you up, engages you and fulfills your life. Remember, the more you try, the more you learn, and the greater your cognitive reserve and adaptability – so even if you try something and end up not liking it, you’ve still learned something valuable (and helped keep your brain healthy). Here are some ideas for finding a path and purpose for your senior years:


Return to something you love.

Picking up old, favorite hobbies that have fallen to the wayside are a great way to find purpose in your retirement years. If there’s something you used to love doing, like woodworking or scrapbooking or playing the piano, now is the perfect time to get back into that hobby. After all, you now have the time and the resources that will allow you to devote your attention fully.


Find a new passion.

Is there something you’ve always wanted to try, learn or do? Maybe it’s learning a foreign language, or discovering how to play a new instrument or perhaps even going into a new career field. Learning something completely new is a great way to find your purpose. Now that you no longer have to raise children or chase a career, you can instead devote your time to the passions you always wanted to try but never did because they weren’t profitable or necessary.


Share your time and talents.

Volunteering is a popular pastime and purpose for many retirees because it allows people the chance to dedicate their abilities to a cause that’s important to them. You may want to help homeless animals, tutor schoolchildren, help out people during tax time, teach a hobby to others – whatever makes you happy and excited is a good option.


Build and nurture relationships.

For some people, building and nurturing relationships with new and old friends is a wonderful life purpose. Your purpose could be to spend more time with your grandchildren, or make a new friend every month, or even set up a group where others like you can make and meet friends. Perhaps you’d like to find friends to travel the world with, or be linked up with like-minded individuals who enjoy discussing the same things as you. Having good friends to do activities and hobbies with will make those things even more enjoyable.


Finally, remember: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Your life’s purpose can change as often as you’d like – even if you find something you love now, you may find something down the road that will enrich you even more. A great way to help you develop life’s purpose is to move into a senior living community, because the maintenance-free lifestyle and the community atmosphere take work and worries off your plate, allowing you all the time you need to devote yourself to finding purpose.


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Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke provides memory care assisted living that is comfortable, positive, safe and engaging. Exclusively dedicated to caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, our community promotes a wellness-focused lifestyle that emphasizes dignity and individual preferences. Our memory care professionals receive specialized, ongoing training designed to help residents maximize their independence in a secure, calm environment – making a truly positive impact on the lives of our residents.


Inspiring Programs for All Stages

Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke’s services are designed to recognize and adapt to the unique challenges and individuality of each resident, while ensuring comfort and safety. We believe in a full-service approach to care and provide personalized attention and programming for residents in every stage of memory loss.


Purposefully Designed Community

Within a beautiful residential design, Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke provides everything residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia need to enjoy comfort, familiarity and security. Soft colors, directional cues and aromatherapy create a soothing and secure environment where residents feel at home.

Bridges® by EPOCH is New England’s largest stand-alone memory care assisted living provider.

Contact us today to learn more.