This report I just discovered is fascinating because of what it says about the effect of purpose in life for human health. Science says they can now locate the “genetic markers” that identify which people are likely to develop Alzheimer’s (or other cognitive struggles) later in life. But they make an exception to their cause-and-effect analysis that seems wild! They also suggest that people who have a “purpose in life” can overcome the genetic markers.
Here’s an excerpt from the summary: “Effect of a purpose in life on risk of incident Alzheimer disease and mild cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older persons.”
Emerging data suggest that psychological and experiential factors are associated with risk of Alzheimer disease (AD), but the association of purpose in life with incident AD is unknown.
To test the hypothesis that greater purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk of AD.
Prospective, longitudinal epidemiologic study of aging.
Senior housing facilities and residences across the greater Chicago metropolitan area.
More than 900 community-dwelling older persons without dementia from the Rush Memory and Aging Project.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:
Participants underwent baseline evaluations of purpose in life and up to 7 years of detailed annual follow-up clinical evaluations to document incident AD. In subsequent analyses, we examined the association of purpose in life with the precursor to AD, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and the rate of change in cognitive function.
During up to 7 years of follow-up (mean, 4.0 years), 155 of 951 persons (16.3%) developed AD. In a proportional hazards model adjusted for age, sex, and education, greater purpose in life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of AD (hazard ratio, 0.48; 95% confidence interval, 0.33-0.69; P < .001). Thus, a person with a high score on the purpose in life measure (score = 4.2, 90th percentile) was approximately 2.4 times more likely to remain free of AD than was a person with a low score (score = 3.0, 10th percentile). This association did not vary along demographic lines and persisted after the addition of terms for depressive symptoms, neuroticism, social network size, and number of chronic medical conditions. In subsequent models, purpose in life also was associated with a reduced risk of MCI (hazard ratio, 0.71; 95% confidence interval, 0.53-0.95; P = .02) and a slower rate of cognitive decline (mean [SE] global cognition estimate, 0.03 [0.01], P < .01).
Greater purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk of AD and MCI in community-dwelling older persons.
So science identifies something material, but… humanity is more than the material! This has massive, massive implications for almost every human science question. Sure, you can find something genetic, but what is cause, and what is effect?
If further verified, this is a huge blow to those who want to believe in biological determinism, and pure scientific materialism. Yes, science is a huge blessing (which several philosophers/theologians demonstrate would NOT have arisen in a society with a secular or pagan worldview), but it is not the be-all-and-end-all of human knowledge.
As Carl Sagan now knows, all too well, his statement that “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” was tragically incorrect.