Cognitive resilience refers to the brain’s ability to cope with stressors and injuries and resist the development of symptoms or disabilities. The study found that having a purposeful life may lead to changes in the organisation of the brain, with the dorsal Default Mode Network showing greater functional connections within its components and with other brain areas.
This neuroprotection mechanism may ensure better cognitive function in old age.
Lead author Dr Kilian Abellaneda-Pérez of Universitat de Barcelona notes that these findings build on previous research, revealing that having a strong sense of purpose may confer resilience as early as middle age. The study also found that individuals in the higher purpose-in-life group had greater connectivity between specific nodes in the dorsal default-mode network, which correlated with cognitive performance.
The importance of identifying modifiable factors promoting brain reserve and resilience is paramount, as disease-modifying agents to counteract cognitive impairment in older age remain elusive. While education and occupation have been identified as typical reserve proxies, the importance of psychological factors, such as purpose in life, is being increasingly recognised as their operating biological mechanisms are elucidated.
The study, conducted with 624 middle-aged adults, found that those with a higher purpose in life rate had greater inter-network connectivity between specific nodes in the dorsal DMN, including the frontal cortex, hippocampal formation, midcingulate regio, and the rest of the brain. Greater functional connectivity in some of these nodes positively correlated with cognitive performance.
“What is exciting is that each of us, with appropriate guidance and support, can develop and sustain a robust sense of purpose and thus contribute to our brain health and well-being,” said Dr Alvaro Pascual-Leone of Harvard Medical School.
Source: Institute for Aging Research