Our values are constantly evolving with age. Upon arriving at a milestone, many of us question life and its meaning. Every time we do this, we are reevaluating what is referred to as sense of purpose. Your sense of purpose is dependent on your values and it will most likely change many times throughout your life. The things that define you one day may longer seem relevant the next.
Typically, it’s a major life event – the death of a loved one, a tough breakup, or a drastic change in career – that will trigger the need for evaluation and make you question the meaning of your life. Now we can add COVID-19 to this list of triggers. During this time of pandemic, many older adults in particular are having a tough time envisioning their “new normal,” according to Kaiser Health News. This is made more challenging still if they’re grieving the loss of a loved one to the disease or feeling isolated due to social distancing safety practices.
Unfortunately for many seniors, time is not on their side and their sense of purpose may never be regained once it’s lost. The importance of finding purpose in your senior years extends far beyond having enough time to regain a sense of identity. A senior’s ability to live purposefully has the power to determine both the quality and quantity of their remaining years. This is illustrated by five senior retirees who AARP recently interviewed about making a difference in their second-act careers during the age of coronavirus.
The Health Benefits of Living Purposefully
The benefits associated with having a sense of purpose in life has been a topic of interest for years. Prior to scientific research, many associated the idea of living purposefully with spiritual or religious practices. We have come a long way since then, and researchers finally have an abundance of strong evidence supporting the idea you may need to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Extend Your Life
One of the most supported theories associated with purpose is the one that suggests there is a correlation between a person’s sense of purpose and their life longevity. Many studies have been conducted to determine whether there is some merit to this theory and the results are always the same: people who feel a greater sense of purpose generally live longer than those who lack feelings of purpose.
Researchers have even made sure to control other factors that could affect lifespans such as age, emotional well-being, and gender. Still, the results consistently support the idea there is a positive correlation between the degree a person feels a sense of purpose and how much longer they live. This is particularly important for seniors because age did not affect the results. A purpose was able to buffer against the effects of aging regardless of how old the subjects were.
Maintain Brain Health
In 2012, Patricia Boyle, a researcher at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, led a study to further understand the relationship between purpose and brain health. A purpose in life was accepted to be associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disability, and death, but this study was conducted to gain a deeper understanding of how purpose protects the brain.
As expected, the study further supported the notion there is a relationship between having a sense of purpose and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, the study found that higher levels of purpose reduced the deleterious effects of Alzheimer’s disease by serving as a neural reserve. It did this by increasing the amount of damage the brain could withstand before becoming clinical.
Another study showed those who felt they lived purposefully slowed the rate of cognitive decline by an average of 30 percent. This was found even in brains that contained key indicators of Alzheimer’s disease such as plaques and tangles. Purpose acted as a kind of buffer for its effects on the brain. If Alzheimer’s disease is a concern for you, finding a sense of purpose may be something to consider.
Improve the Quality of Your Sleep
Many of us know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep disturbances have been associated with higher rates of cognitive impairment, mortality and overall health issues. Unfortunately, many elderly adults experience more sleep disturbances as they age, most commonly sleep-disordered breathing, REM behavior disorder and restless legs syndrome.
One of the most recent studies identified a relationship between sleep quality and sense of purpose. Older adults who lived purposefully slept better than those who were aimless in life.
More Reasons to Find Your Sense of Purpose
Other possible benefits associated with finding purpose include the following:
- Less likely to suffer from age-related disabilities
- Reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke
- Less susceptible to stress
- Likely to take better care of health
- Increased resilience
- Preserve strength
Identifying your Sense of Purpose
The idea of having a sense of purpose can be a difficult concept to grasp. This is partly because living with purpose varies tremendously from person to person. Some people describe their purpose in life as the meaning they derive from life and its occurrences, while others take a more direct approach claiming their sense of purpose is equivalent to their reason to live. Nonetheless, your sense of purpose should bring you joy and it ought to be in line with your personal values.
Finding your sense of purpose doesn’t have to be difficult. Your sense of purpose can be derived from something as simple as taking care of a pet or working in the garden. So long as you have something (or someone), you have found your sense of purpose. Most importantly, it doesn’t matter when or how you decide to live purposefully, it just matters you do.
“The Importance of Finding Purpose in Your Senior Years,” written by Ashley LeVine and updated by Michelle Flores, Amada Blog contributors.