Can a Sense of Purpose Slow Alzheimer’s?

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Few people would argue that having a sense of purpose in life is anything but a good thing. The Egyptian Book of the Dead even contains a prayer for it: “May I be given a god’s duty; a burden that matters.” In the modern world, exhorting young people to seek a sense of purpose in life is a mainstay of college commencement speeches, and a collective longing for a feeling of purpose and fulfillment drove evangelical minister Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life into the best-selling stratosphere.

Medical professionals have also found correlations between a person’s sense of purpose and their physical health and survival. As far back as 1946, the Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl, who spent several years in concentration camps during WWII and lost his entire family in the Holocaust, found that the people who survived the concentration camps best were those who believed they had a reason, mission, or purpose that required their survival. Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl’s classic book on the subject (which he wrote in nine days following his release from the camps) also notes that people who could find a reason or worthwhile purpose for their suffering were far less debilitated by it.

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