Possessing a greater purpose in life is associated with lower mortality rates among older adults according to a new study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center.
Patricia A. Boyle, PhD, and her colleagues from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, studied 1,238 community-dwelling elderly participants from two ongoing research studies, the Rush Memory and Aging Project and the Minority Aging Research Study. None had dementia. Data from baseline evaluations of purpose in life and up to five years of follow-up were used to test the hypothesis that greater purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk of mortality among community-dwelling older persons.
Purpose in life reflects the tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and be focused and intentional, according to Boyle.
After adjusting for age, sex, education and race, a higher purpose of life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of mortality. Thus, 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 or whites and blacks, and the finding persisted even after controlling for depressive symptoms, disability, neuroticism, the number of medical conditions and income. During the study period, 151 participants died.
“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.
Significant associations with mortality were found with three specific items on the purpose of life questionnaire to determine the study participants’ agreement with the following statements: “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;” and “My daily activities often seem trivial and unimportant to me.”
“We are excited about these findings because they suggest that positive factors such as having a sense of purpose in life are important contributors to health,” said Boyle.
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