A recent study found that a person’s sense of purpose tends to decrease before and after a diagnosis of dementia or cognitive decline. Dr. Angelina Sutin, the lead author, defines purpose in life as feeling that one’s life has direction and meaning, highlighting its importance for overall well-being. Previous research has shown that individuals with a stronger sense of purpose are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This study explores the reciprocal relationship: how does cognitive impairment affect one’s sense of purpose? By examining data from over 30,000 participants in two extensive studies conducted between 2006 and 2021, the research identifies a significant decline in feelings of purpose, especially following the identification of cognitive impairment.

After a cognitive impairment diagnosis, the decline in purposefulness accelerates. This underscores the vital need for maintaining a sense of purpose in later life, especially for those facing dementia. A diminished sense of purpose can lead to apathy, significantly affecting their engagement with life. Caregivers play a crucial role in balancing involvement and preserving independence for individuals with cognitive impairment. Effective caregiving involves recognizing the person beyond their condition, helping them reconnect with their identity through activities like reminiscing or sharing experiences. The study ultimately stresses the importance of personalized, all-encompassing care that respects and acknowledges the individual beyond their cognitive condition.