Having a strong sense that your life has meaning and direction may make you less likely to develop areas of brain damage caused by blockages in blood flow as you age. This research is reported in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.
When a blockage interrupts blood flow in a vessel within the brain, a stroke can result or brain tissue can be damaged. This damaged tissue, called infarcts, may contribute to dementia, movement problems, disability, and death as people age.
“Mental health, in particular positive psychological factors such as having a purpose in life, are emerging as very potent determinants of health outcomes,” said Patricia Boyle. Ph.D., study co-author and associate professor of behavioral sciences at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Clinicians need to be aware of patients’ mental state and encourage behaviors that will increase purpose and other positive emotional states.”
Researchers analyzed autopsy results on 453 people, average age 84, who volunteered for the Rush Memory and Aging Project and underwent annual physical and psychological evaluations until they died, at an average age of 90. None of the participants had known dementia when they started the study and all participants had agreed to organ donation at death.
Among the participants, 114 had clinically diagnosed stroke. At autopsy, researchers found: