Harvard Health Letter

Preserving brain function

Living with purpose may protect against changes.

Volunteering, caring for others, or pursuing a hobby may seem like routine activities. But a new study finds that engaging in meaningful activities promotes cognitive health in old age.

The study was published in Archives of General Psychiatry. Participants who reported higher levels of purpose in life exhibited better cognitive function despite the accumulation of abnormal protein depositions (amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

"The authors provide good evidence that having purpose allows one to withstand greater amounts of Alzheimer's disease pathology without exhibiting as much cognitive impairment," says Dr. Gad Marshall, a behavioral neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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