Saturday, October 20, 2007

Life is for the Goal-Oriented... Or So It Seems

I recently read about a study at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, co-authored by Robert Wilson (pictured right) that examine the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease through a slightly different lens. While much of the research on Alzheimer’s Disease has looked at genetics and general brain fitness, Dr. Wilson’s work specifically highlighted the role of “the purposeful personality.” His findings suggest that those who view themselves as self-disciplined achievers have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than people who are less goal-oriented. The link, he explains, may be that “a purposeful personality somehow protects the brain, perhaps by increasing neural connections that can act as a reserve against mental decline.” You might wonder how scientists like Dr. Wilson do this research. They actually examine the brains of individuals after their deaths. In this case, the scientists looked at the brains of those who had been identified (or self-identified) as goal-oriented, purposeful individuals. Surprisingly, in many cases they found lesions that would have otherwise qualified as acceptable criteria for Alzheimer’s, but these individuals showed no signs of dementia before their deaths. “This adds to our knowledge that lifestyle, personality, how we think, feel and behave are very importantly tied up with risk for this terrible illness,” Wilson said. “It may suggest new ideas for trying to delay the onset of this illness.” These findings were published in a recent Archives of General Pyschiatry.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since reading the article a few weeks ago. Aren’t we all goal-oriented? I’ve been wondering and asking folks this question. I suppose I have known some people whose qualities would not include self-disciplined, purposeful or goal-driven, although they have gotten along just fine in their careers and life in general. So, what is it that sparks drive and purpose? Are we born with these qualities, do we cultivate them through experience, can we begin to develop conscientiousness later on in life if it’s not been a key motivator for us previously? As I watch my grandchildren, it’s impossible for me to imagine that we are not born with a sense of drive and purpose. Each one of them pushes the envelope of learning and experimentation, however unique and different they each are. And yet, in my inquiries these past couple of weeks, I have had some frank answers to these musings. Many, of course, insist the lead lives of purpose and focus. Not possessing these qualities is probably a hard thing to see in oneself or to admit. On the other hand, I was inspired by some who frankly said they were not self-disciplined and spoke about the ways that has affected their lives. Some have regrets, others have focused instead on their other fine qualities. It’s one more take on the nature/nuture argument. I love thinking about these things.

What do you think? Do you identify yourself as goal-oriented? If not, how have you achieved what you have? If so, do you think you were born that way or is there a life-defining moment you could share with us that caused you to focus, to become more purposeful? Post your comments or send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

The critical conclusion is that there is most likely not one silver bullet to unraveling the mystery of why some individuals fall to Alzheimer’s and others do not. Each finding gives another clue and, as Dr. Wilson says, another suggestion for something we might try to ward off this illness. At Capabilities we have introduced a focus on brain fitness. You can read our many Brain Tips and Facts, check out the incredible Brain Fitness program with a free demo, or try our fun Scrambles puzzles. We intend to add to our collection over the coming months. What other ideas do you have for us? Email with your ideas about specific products you enjoy or have seen that enhance brain fitness.

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