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Your Mental Health

Goals are good for you

I have written before about the importance of interests and goals for health and happiness. Research has confirmed that patients who maintain a greater sense of purpose in life as they age may have greater protection against Alzheimer's disease. Those with a sense of purpose had more than a 50% reduced risk of the disease. Any drug that could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 50% would be a runaway blockbuster. A sense of purpose will do that while having the side-effects of making you happier, more fulfilled and extending your life all at the same time - and it doesn’t cost anything.

In this longitudinal study 951 community-dwelling older patients without dementia and a mean age of 80.4 years were followed for up to seven years. During that time, 155 developed Alzheimer’s disease. Greater purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of disease.

The association persisted after controlling for several factors, including depressive symptoms, neuroticism, social network size, and number of chronic medical conditions, all of which can be associated with greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Similarly, those who developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI) were older and reported lower purpose in life scores. They also had a higher number of depressive symptoms.

Many people I meet can’t wait to retire and seem to be living their life for that end. Many of them don’t have any real sense of purpose for their retirement; it is just that they want to escape from what they are doing now. They may not enjoy their work or they may feel that retirement will be the answer to other problems. Some are unhappy, lacking in energy or without interests and feel that retirement will resolve these problems. In many cases it just means that they have even less sense of purpose. They remain at home, isolated, lonely and watching television.

Of course it doesn’t have to be that way. If retirement is an opportunity to change direction and try new things that were previously not possible, due to the demands of work, it can be a very positive and refreshing new beginning. This can be good for one’s health and vitality.

Economists are predicting that most people are going to be working longer in the future. Whereas many people have longed for retirement by 55, it may be that future generations will work until they are 80. It is predicted this will happen for a variety of reasons including:

  • Insufficient funds for retirement.
  • Improving longevity and overall health.
  • A shortage of manpower due to a shrinking younger population.

This might be a good thing. Providing older workers are doing jobs they enjoy, are reasonably healthy, and have a sense of purpose they may live longer and be happier if they don’t retire. This may also help prevent the impending crisis in health care that seems inevitable if health care costs continue to escalate and the health care needs of an aging population out strip our ability to provide for them.

The writing is on the wall. Health care in this country is in decline. As governments try to cope with the growing costs, they are cutting services, reducing staff levels, and moving progressively to lower paid and less trained staff. By the time the baby boomers get to the age of 80+ they will not be getting the standard of care we expect today. Our generation should expect to be living at home, looking after ourselves and being increasingly responsible of our own health care needs.



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About the author...

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research and administration. After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar. Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC where he has held many administrative positions and has done numerous clinical trials. He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders. He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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