The search for meaning, part 5. The key to fighting dementia

The book Not Fade Away by Celia Dodds, which I’ve featured before has a chapter entitled ‘Finding New Purpose’ which has some interesting and relevant insights. 

She states that people often need a bit of distance between their new life and their main career to discover what really drives them. I certainly understand that and it’s interesting that some six months after my semi-retirement began I’m only now starting to focus on it. 

In the chapter Dodds quotes Oliver Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Greenwich University: “The difficulty with the kind of off-the-shelf advice people often give retired people, to keep busy, volunteer and so on, is that when you’ve got an almost infinite number of reactions to retirement a singular solution is not helpful. What is needed is a process of exploration, of looking outside yourself and at the same time inside yourself at what really fulfils you.” 

She goes on to list the ingredients for fulfilment.

  • Activities that nurture you, walking, listening to music and practicing yoga are common examples
  • People: opportunities to meet up with old friends, make new friends and acquaintances, and take part in activities in a group
  • Flow, losing yourself in an absorbing activity
  • Stimulation, keeping the brain sharp
  • Being challenged
  • A sense of achievement
  • An overarching sense of purpose: long-term goals that incorporate short-term goals
  • Progress
  • Learning
  • Fun
  • Simple Pleasures

I found this list a bit perplexing.  It seems to lack focus, includes virtually everything you could do and feels somewhat contradictory. ‘Being challenged’ and ‘simple pleasures’ seem opposites, similarly ‘fun’ and ‘keeping the brain sharp’ don’t go together for me.  That said the list made me think.

One thing I did agree this was that in retirement as in the rest of your life you have to be prepared to be uncomfortable to keep alert and alive.  You have to be curious, to expand your mind, to learn new things all the time and take the initiative. 

The chapter refers in passing to a study which shows that retired people with “high purpose” are more likely to remain free of Alzheimer’s. The study referred to is by Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.

Following almost 1,000 people (average age 80) for up to seven years, Dr. Boyle’s team found that the ones with “high purpose” scores were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer’s than those with low scores.

They also were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor. “It slowed the rate of cognitive decline by about 30 per cent, which is a lot,” Dr. Boyle added.

In addition, her study showed that purposeful people were less likely to develop disabilities or die. A sample of 1,238 people followed for up to five years (average age 78) by Rush researchers found that those with high purpose had roughly half the mortality rate of those with low purpose.

A sense of purpose is a very robust predictor of health and wellness in old age,” says Boyle.

What greater incentive could you have to find purpose than that?

I’m parking my daily blogs about finding meaning – though I will return – while I turn some of the research I’ve been doing into action.  In my quest for meaning, so far, I’ve looked into how to be selected as a county councillor and expressed an interest in becoming a board trustee at a special school.  I may end up doing neither but it seems there’s no harm in finding out more.

I’m also going to update my LinkedIn profile and CV and post on relevant sites.  I don’t think I want a job but there’s no harm in being open to opportunities. 

A couple of other things I’m considering is having another crack at learning French. I did an evening course over a year ago and felt like I was slowly making progress.  It needs to be much more structured than it was before, a proper course with exams to give me targets and make me work.

One other thing I’ve thought about it is learning to sail – I’d love to own a boat one day and have the confidence to use it.  This would be something physical with a certain amount of risk which I think would float my boat!

 I’m very conscious I’ve had these sort of ideas before and took them no further. Hopefully this time I’ll turn at least some into action.  I think I will.

Published by brianjonesdiary

Dad, husband, brother and son. Interested in travel, politics, sport, health and much more. Semi-retired and aiming to making the most of life as I approach my sixth decade.

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