Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

HABIT Healthy Action to Benefit Independence & Thinking

Welcome to the HABIT page for people living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and program participants.  The HABIT Program is for individuals with MCI and their loved ones to learn the best strategies for adapting, coping, and living their best lives with MCI.

Follow the HABIT page to receive updates and information about adjusting to MCI and combating dementia. Our goal is to connect you with others and provide you with information and support.

PUBLIC PAGE
Tue, Oct 16, 2018 9:24am

Now What? The Importance of Having Purpose as We Age

By Dr. Melanie Chandler, HABIT FL Director, @drmelaniechandler

Purpose

For many, one of the perks of age is the ability to retire. You worked hard all your life to earn your time to do whatever you want, when you want to do it. Yes, you EARNED it.  Or, maybe memory loss, or other circumstance, has forced you to retire.  What do you do with your time now?

It seems that simply doing nothing is not all it is cracked up to be. Low and behold, watching endless hours of television is not good for your body or your brain.  And, this isn’t just about the benefits of being active.  I’m talking about having meaning or purpose to your activity.  Doing something that makes you feel like your life matters.

Don’t worry. This isn’t a post full of inspirational quotes or links to self-help websites.  I can’t tell you how to give yourself purpose.  I AM going to ask you to pause, and ask yourself, “Do I have a sense of purpose in my life?” and  “Do I feel like I matter?”  Yes, those are deep questions, and questions that many people find themselves asking when they encounter any life transition.  Often, people find themselves asking those questions with retirement or with an acquired change in ability, like physical limitations or cognitive limitations from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Why does this matter? Well, there is growing evidence that having a sense of purpose is linked to better health and well-being in older adults. The benefits to health are so great, that there is actually reduced risk of death when folks report higher sense of purpose!  (Yes, that is during the duration of a study, so maybe it’s fairer to say delay in death. And, no, sense of purpose does not impact your taxes.)

Cognitively, individuals are less likely to develop MCI or Alzheimer’s disease when they report a strong sense of purpose.  Further, those same researchers (from the Rush Memory and Aging Project) found that having a sense of purpose actually reduced the association between Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain and cognitive performance.  Meaning: having a sense of purpose meant you could do better cognitively despite how much plaque was in your brain!

So, my appeal to the importance of you having a sense of purpose is not just about how happy you are or a general message that I want you to have a good quality of life. I DO want you to have those things. However, on a more basic level that maybe you never thought about before, having that sense of purpose can actually safeguard your cognition and health.

The irony here? Cognitive change from MCI can challenge your sense of purpose, or even take away the sense of purpose you once had (like being forced to retire early from meaningful employment or give up a volunteer/leadership position you loved).  In actuality, then, getting the diagnosis of MCI becomes just the time when we need to strive to ensure that we have a sense of purpose.  If what used to be your sense of purpose can no longer apply, find new sources of meaning in your life.

OK, indulge me with one inspirational quote:

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” - Nietzsche

How did you face a change to your sense of self-meaning or purpose? We’d love to hear!

Dr Chandler @drmelaniechandler – This is such an important issue – and its multi-faceted. On the one hand, as you point out, it's critical for the person diagnosed with MCI to have a purpose – or find a new one if necessary. This can definitely be a challenge especially when the person is still reeling from the diagnosis and may be feeling more apathetic than usual. On the other hand, I think it's also critical that the spouse or partner of the person with MCI have – or find – a purpose OTHER than being a caregiver. So many of the responsibilities of daily life fall on the partner after the MCI diagnosis that for me, finding another sense of purpose outside that role has been just life-sustaining. It's more than just having a "support system." It's finding a purpose and passion that make you excited to wake up in the morning. Everybody is different, but for me, hanging on to some of my volunteer work and continuing to set aside time for my hobbies – like quilting and making stained glass – has gone a long way toward keeping me sane and somewhat balanced. Thanks so much for the excellent article.

@debbraw

Dr Chandler @drmelaniechandler – This is such an important issue – and its multi-faceted. On the one hand, as you point out, it's critical for the person diagnosed with MCI to have a purpose – or find a new one if necessary. This can definitely be a challenge especially when the person is still reeling from the diagnosis and may be feeling more apathetic than usual. On the other hand, I think it's also critical that the spouse or partner of the person with MCI have – or find – a purpose OTHER than being a caregiver. So many of the responsibilities of daily life fall on the partner after the MCI diagnosis that for me, finding another sense of purpose outside that role has been just life-sustaining. It's more than just having a "support system." It's finding a purpose and passion that make you excited to wake up in the morning. Everybody is different, but for me, hanging on to some of my volunteer work and continuing to set aside time for my hobbies – like quilting and making stained glass – has gone a long way toward keeping me sane and somewhat balanced. Thanks so much for the excellent article.

Jump to this post

Great points, Debbra! Everyone needs a sense of purpose, and that does mean caregivers, too. And, I agree, that most people need a sense of purpose outside of being a caregiver as well.

This is an interesting subject with MCI. Seems in our last three years we have changed our "sense of purpose" with the ability to carry out volunteer roles in our community. When something becomes difficult then the "sense of confidence" is threatened and we have to change our "sense of purpose".

Please login or register to post a reply.

Invite Others

Send an email to invite people you know to join the Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) page.

We'll include this text in the user's invitation.