Living with Purpose when Living with Dementia

Vicky Pitner   -  

Having a purpose in life reflects on one’s life goals and the desire to pursue them. By having a purpose, one has the internal motivation to achieve positive health outcomes. Early studies related to retirement indicated a possible negative association that retirement could lead people to feel lost and aimless. But more recent research suggests to a life after retirement is an opportunity to experience a renewed sense of purpose in life.

Aristotle believed that “living well” is the ability to utilize one’s full potential and do the highest good. He felt that purpose is important because it can shape how one sees themselves and their world. So what if you are living with a neurocognitive disorder such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? How does that effect one’s purpose, and quality of life?

From the earliest suspicions that something is changing and prior to any official diagnosis of a neurocognitive disorder, the person’s quality of life is affected. Social, behavioral and cognitive changes are occurring and this can influence the person (or family) perception of a reduced sense of purpose. This can lead to depression, anxiety, shame, and fear of the unknown. Thus, it is imperative that families and friends help the person with progressive cognitive decline to find purpose and meaning to improve overall well-being.

To live with purpose, we must make efforts to help our loved ones contribute to conversations and decisions. Because they are not able to follow current news and some conversations, they show purpose by sharing stories of a better time (or a distressing time in he past) often repeating the same story, even during one conversation. By validating that memory each time the story is told or a question is asked, we let the person know they continue to have meaning in their life and ours. Studies show a correlation between greater purpose in life and lower rates of depression.

Creating meaningful activities will not only improve mood and sense of self, it will help with dementia related symptoms that can manifest because of boredom, anxiety, or just lack of stimulation. Keeping your family member involved in meal prep, self-care, or a favorite activity, is very important.

Because of a decrease in initiating activities, setting the person up for success is key.

Meaningful activities should be linked to hobbies or tasks related to previous work and they can provide a person living with dementia emotionally nurturing experiences to increase self-esteem and feel valued.

If you would like more information on our Memory Café of the services of our Memory Ministry, please contact Vicky Pitner at