The study reveals that a person’s sense of purpose tends to diminish before and after a diagnosis of dementia or cognitive decline. Dr. Angelina Sutin, the lead author, defines purpose in life as the perception that one’s life is purposeful and directed, emphasizing its significance for overall well-being. Previous research has established that individuals with a stronger sense of purpose are less prone to developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This study examines the reciprocal relationship: how does cognitive impairment affect one’s sense of purpose? By analyzing data from over 30,000 participants across two extensive studies conducted between 2006 and 2021, the research identifies a notable decline in feelings of purpose, particularly following the identification of cognitive impairment.

It is noteworthy that the decrease in purposefulness accelerates post-identification of cognitive impairment. While the decline in purpose is an anticipated outcome after diagnosis, it underlines the importance of maintaining a sense of purpose in later stages of life. This aspect is particularly critical for individuals facing dementia, as a loss of purpose can lead to apathy, significantly impacting their engagement with life. Caregivers play a pivotal role in supporting individuals with cognitive impairment, striking a balance between involvement and preserving their independence. Meaningful caregiving involves recognizing the person beyond their condition and finding ways to help them reconnect with their identity, whether through reminiscing about their past career or engaging in shared activities. Ultimately, the study underscores the need for personalized, holistic care that respects and acknowledges the individual beyond their cognitive condition.