Posts Tagged ‘Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’

Research on Ikigai

February 28, 2017

Research on ikigai, or purpose in life, is usually measured with statements such as, “I have a sense of direction and purpose in life,” and “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.  Respondents then assess these statements using scales that range from one to seven.  Bear in mind that these are just examples, the assessment form includes many more such statements.  The responses to all these statements are combined to form an overall index of purpose.  Although this might appear to be a simple form of evaluation, it delivers reliable and validated results.

Studies using these measures have demonstrated that people reporting a strong purpose in life live longer lives, on average, that those with a weak purpose.  A recent study that followed over seven thousand middle-aged America adults for fourteen years found that even a one-point increase on a seven-point scale of purpose resulted in an over 12% reduced risk of dying.  The person’s age or whether they’ retired did not matter.  What is even more impotent is that general measures of happiness or sadness did not influence the risk of death, not did they affect the impact of purpose in life.

Dr. Strecher spends his days at work studying facts that make us healthy or unhealthy.  Together, tobacco use, a poor diet, inactivity, stress, and other lifestyle factors contribute to about half of disease and early death.  This is not news.  There are many articles written on these issues, yet you rarely read about ikigai, or having a meaningful purpose in life, but current evidence indicates that it contributes at least as much to disease and death as do these other factors.

In a study of over 1,500 adults with heart disease followed for two years, every one-point increase a six-point purpose-in-life scale resulted in a 27% lower risk of suffering a heart attack.  In a study of over 6,000 adults follows for four years, every one-point increase on a six-pint scale resulted in a 22% reduced risk of stroke.

Great pains are taken in this research to avoid mistaking correlation for causation.  Other factors  that might actually be causing changes in the outcomes of interest are statistically controlled.

Patricia Boyle and her colleagues at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center followed over nine hundred seniors for seven years, looking for the incidence of Alzheimer’s.  Over that period, seniors with a low purpose in life were 2.4 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those with a high purpose in life.  In a different study the same research team found a slower progression of the disease among those who had developed Allzheimer’s and had a high purpose in life.

People with ikigai, or a strong purpose in life, on average, do better psychologically and socially than those without.  They sleep better, have better sex, and are less likely to become depressed and are more relaxed.   Diabetics with ikigai are more likely to have their blood glucose under control.  People who have received drug and alcohol rehab are half as likely to relapse six month later if they started treatment with a strong purpose.  There are physiological factors underlying these results.  Ikigai is associated with an increase in natural killer cells that attack viruses and cancerous cells.  Ikigai is also associated with  reduction in inflammatory cell production and an increase in HDL (good cholesterol.)

These outcomes also translate into reductions in health-care costs.  After statistically controlling for initial demographics, health behaviors, and health status, every point improved on a six-point purpose-in-life scale resulted in a 17% reduction in nights spent in the hospital.  Someone on a six-point scale,  with a purpose of five would have an average of 36% fewer hospital nights per year than a person who had a purpose of two.  Dr. Strecher knows of no other lifestyle behavior that produces this effect on health care.

The 2009 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, Elizabeth Blackburn, discovered the role of telomeres. Telomeres are located at the end of our chromosomes and act a bit like the plastic caps that keep shoelaces from fraying.  When our telomeres shorten, our chromosomes are more susceptible to damage and we’re more likely to get sick.

Stress damages chromosomes.  Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, so Blackburn and her colleagues created an experiment that randomly enrolled some subjects in a three-month meditation program, and others to a waiting list for the program.  The research question was whether meditation would reduce stress, which might, in turn, increase an enzyme, telomerase, that a fuels telomeres.

Compared to the control group, the meditators did have more telomerase.  However, they also found that the meditators were developing a stronger purpose in their lives, and it was this purpose in life, and not the meditation, that was associated with the higher levels of telomerase.


Alzheimer’s and a Cognitive Reserve

June 21, 2016

The healthy memory blog has made frequent mention of the fact that many people have died with the defining amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s, yet who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease.  Although healthy memory regards this as the most important fact bearing upon Alzheimer’s, it is rarely mentioned or discussed.  The cognitive reserve is assumed to result from studies and activities which enriched the brain earlier in life.

The July/August issue of “Scientific American Mind” contained an article titled “Banking Against Alzheimer’s” by Dr. David A. Bennet.  He is the Director of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, where about 100 scientists are searching for ways to treat and prevent a range of common neurodegenerative disorders.  For almost a quarter of a century he has led two longitudinal investigations—the Religious Orders Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project—which have enrolled more than 3200 older adults across the U.S.  These volunteers enter these studies dementia free, anywhere from their mid-50s, to their 100s and agree to hours of testing each year.  They undergo comprehensive physical examinations, detailed interviews, cognitive testing, blood draws and, in some cases, brain scans.  Most importantly, they all donate their brains after death for research.  To date tens of thousands of clinical evaluations and more han 1,350 autopsies provide an unprecedented set of data.

These autopsies have indicated that it is rare to grow old with a completely healthy brain.  Virtually every brain examined exhibits at least some of the neuron killing tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease, which is, by far, the most common cause of dementia.  In about half of the autopsies, scars of previous strokes, both big and small, are found.  In almost a fifth of the autopsies so-called Lewy bodies—abnormal protein clumps that are the mark of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia are found.  But when they trace these laboratory finds back to each individual’s records, they can account for only about half of the cognitive changes measured on tests of memory, processing speed and the like.  In other words, the condition of someone’s brain post-mortem only partially tells how well it functioned in the years leading up to the person’s death.

So why is this the case?  What provides this cognitive reserve?  Rush epidemiologist Martha Claire has found that the so-called MIND diet—which is rich in berries, vegetables, whole grains and nuts—dramatically lowers the risk of developing the defining physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

But other life choices seem to actually bolster the brain’s ability to cope with the disease, helping it compensate for any loss of mental firing power.  In particular, they have found that the more engaged our volunteers stay throughout their live, socially and intellectually—the more resilient they are to dementia at its end.   Reader should note that the healthy memory blog has been sending the same message, to which healthy memory will add, having a purpose in living.  In fact, there is a Japanese word for this, “ikigai.”
Here are some tips for building a better brain.

Get a good education, a second language and music lessons.  Avoid emotional    neglect.
Engage in regular cognitive (building a growth mindset) and physical activity.
Strengthen and maintain social ties.
Get out and explore new things (growth mindset)
Chill and be happy.
Avoid people who are downers, especially close family relatives.
Be conscientious and diligent.
Spend time in activities that are meaningful and goal-directed.
Be heart-healthy:  what’s good for the the heart is good for the brain.
Eat a MIND Diet
Remember ikigai and have a purpose for living.
Professor Clive Holmes and his co-workers at the University of Southhampton in the UK found that research participants with gum disease for over the next six months was more rapid for those with gum disease.  Gum disease is associated with increased biomarkers for inflammation.  Research has shown that illnesses that cause inflammation such as chest infections, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes are linked to greater cognitive impairment.

HM would add the following items
meditate and be mindful

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.