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Aging With Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives


Aging With Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives

For the past 15 years, the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato,
Minnesota, have been an army of volunteers as a part of a study on
Alzheimer's disease. Their personal and medical histories have been
made available to the remarkable and empathetic researcher who
began the study in 1986 after performing similar medical studies
with other religious groups. Professor David Snowdon theorized that
religious orders are an excellent resource for medical research
because often the diets, living habits, and insularity of these
groups provide the control needed for accurate observation.

The School Sisters, who ranged in age from 75 to 104, were
approached to participate in the study and agreed to donate their
brain tissue after their deaths. This generosity was indicative of
the lives these quiet, dedicated women led --- it exemplified their
desire to serve others in life and after. At the outset, Snowdon
decided to break the barrier usually erected during research of
this sort and became personally involved with the School Sisters
over the course of the study, which is still ongoing. He made a
commitment to treat them with "care and respect" and only divulge
information they were willing to share. This unusual decision has
led to a remarkable book, filled with insight that goes beyond
charts and graphs, facts and figures.

One of the most striking discoveries was the correlation between a
low rate of Alzheimer's and a high ability in written and oral
expression. Snowdon was fortunate to find essays describing their
home lives, written by the women while in their late teens as an
exercise conducted upon entry into the order. Those who were able
to write in complex sentences clearly expressing related thoughts
without breaking sentences into simple declarative form were the
least likely in later years to develop the debilitating symptoms
and, ultimately, the disease. Avid readers and individuals who
remained involved in community affairs were also less likely to
develop Alzheimer's than the more reclusive members of the order.
Heredity, diet, and exercise were also found to be major factors in
avoiding dementia or Alzheimer's.  

Dr. Snowdon, recognized as one of the world's leading experts on
aging and Alzheimer's, still conducts the Nun Study at the
Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky Medical
Center, where he is also Professor of Neurology. The heartwarming
stories of the School Sisters are combined with easily digestible
statistics from the study. The prescription for living a fulfilling
and worthwhile life makes AGING WITH GRACE a book that is a beacon
of hope for families who are dealing with a loved one with the
disease. More than that, it may help us alter our own lifestyles
and those of our children so that old age need not be an inevitable
slide into ill health and mental confusion, but instead, years of
productivity in which intellectual and spiritual vigor and good
health are retained.

Reviewed by Roz Shea (HOST BKPG ROZ) on January 20, 2011

Aging With Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives
by David Snowdon, Ph.D.

  • Publication Date: May 8, 2001
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553801635
  • ISBN-13: 9780553801637