Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id OAA00138 (8.6.9/5.3[ref email@example.com] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from firstname.lastname@example.org); Mon, 7 May 2001 14:54:04 +0100 Message-ID: <2D1C159B783DD211808A006008062D3101745E61@inchna.stir.ac.uk> From: Vincent Campbell <email@example.com> To: "'firstname.lastname@example.org'" <email@example.com> Subject: RE: Nuns Offer Clues to Alzheimer's and Aging Date: Mon, 7 May 2001 14:50:17 +0100 X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2650.21) Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1" Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org Precedence: bulk Reply-To: email@example.com
.....and who said nuns don't make a positive contribution to society?
Rather atypical group though for generalisating to the wider population
> From: Wade T.Smith
> Reply To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Sent: Monday, May 7, 2001 2:20 pm
> To: memetics list
> Subject: Fwd: Nuns Offer Clues to Alzheimer's and Aging
> I throw this at youse here because of the mention of 'idea density'
> included, as well as the general interest of the study, and the
> specificity of the subject group for this data- all important, IMHO, for
> valid planning for memetic research.
> - Wade
> Nuns Offer Clues to Alzheimer's and Aging
> By PAM BELLUCK
> MANKATO, Minn., May 2 < A spiraling road slopes gently up to Good Counsel
> Hill, where the convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame perches
> peacefully. Within its thick red brick walls are bright paintings of nuns
> and children. Organ hymns waft from a circular chapel, and nuns attend
> Mass and murmur rosaries under a white vaulted dome.
> But this crucible of faith is also the site of an extraordinary
> scientific experiment. For 15 years, elderly Catholic nuns here have had
> their genes analyzed and balance and strength measured. They have been
> tested on how many words they can remember minutes after reading them on
> flashcards, how many animals they can name in a minute and whether they
> can count coins correctly.
> The autobiographical essays they wrote for their order in their 20's,
> when they took their vows, have been scrutinized, their words plumbed for
> meaning. And as they have died, their brains have been removed and
> shipped in plastic tubs to a laboratory where they are analyzed and
> stored in jars.
> The experiment, called the Nun Study, is considered by experts on aging
> to be one of the most innovative efforts to answer questions about who
> gets Alzheimer's disease and why. And now in a new report it is offering
> insight on a different subject < whether a positive emotional outlook
> early in life can help people live longer.
> "The Nun Study has certainly been pioneering," said Dr. Richard Suzman,
> chief of demography and population epidemiology at the National Institute
> on Aging. "It's helped change the paradigm about how people think about
> aging and Alzheimer's disease."
> By studying 678 nuns < at this convent and six others in the order, in
> Connecticut, Maryland, Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois < Dr.
> David A. Snowdon, an epidemiologist at the University of Kentucky, and
> colleagues have come up with tantalizing clues and provocative theories
> over the years.
> Their research has shown that folic acid may help stave off Alzheimer's
> disease; that small, barely perceptible strokes may trigger some
> dementia; and, in an especially striking finding, that early language
> ability may be linked to lower risk of Alzheimer's because nuns who
> packed more ideas into the sentences of their early autobiographies were
> less likely to get Alzheimer's disease six decades later.
> The new report, being published on Monday in The Journal of Personality
> and Social Psychology, says nuns who expressed more positive emotions in
> their autobiographies lived significantly longer < in some cases 10 years
> longer < than those expressing fewer positive emotions.
> "It's an important finding," Dr. Suzman said, "and I think it will lead
> to lots of additional studies."
> The nuns are ideal for scientific study because their stable, relatively
> similar lives preclude certain factors from contributing to illness. They
> do not smoke, hardly drink and do not experience physical changes related
> to pregnancy. The School Sisters are white and eat in convent cafeterias,
> and most were teachers in Catholic schools.
> The study is also considered powerful because it has information from
> several stages in its subjects' lives, including when they were too young
> to manifest Alzheimer's or other diseases related to aging.
> "I think the Nun Study is very important because it uses information
> obtained about people before the period of illness," said Dr. Robert P.
> Friedland, professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University and
> author of a study showing that people with Alzheimer's were, as young
> adults, less mentally and physically active outside their jobs than
> people without the disease. "So we know from the Nun Study and others
> that Alzheimer's disease takes several decades to develop, and the
> disease has many important effects on all aspects of a person's life."
> All this has given Dr. Snowdon, author of a new book on the study called
> "Aging With Grace" (Bantam), a rare window through which to examine why
> some nuns thrive and others deteriorate so much they lose speech,
> mobility and much of their memory. The differences show up even in nuns
> with virtually identical backgrounds, even those who are biologically
> At 93, Sister Nicolette Welter still reads avidly, recently finishing a
> biography of Bishop James Patrick Shannon. She knits, crochets, plays
> rousing card games and, until a recent fall, was walking several miles a
> day with no cane or walker.
> But a younger sibling, Sister Mary Ursula, 92, shows clear Alzheimer's
> symptoms, Dr. Snowdon said. Several times a day, Sister Nicolette feeds
> and reads prayers to Sister Mary Ursula, who uses a wheelchair and can
> hardly lift her head or gnarled hands.
> The other day, Sister Nicolette prompted Sister Mary Ursula to remember
> her age and birth date, but when Sister Nicolette asked if she recalled
> when "Sister Julia told you to pick up the Kleenex people used after Mass
> and you didn't want to," Sister Mary Ursula's eyes glazed, showing no
> hint of recognition.
> Another Welter sister, 87-year-old Sister Claverine, is still active and
> clearheaded. A fourth sibling, Sister Mary Stella, died in 1996 at 80.
> "I wouldn't have any idea why this happened to Mary Ursula," said Sister
> Nicolette, "but I just feel like I'll keep my mental faculties."
> Some of Dr. Snowdon's research suggests she might be right. Sister
> Nicolette's autobiography, written when she was 20, was full of what Dr.
> Snowdon calls "idea density," many thoughts woven into a small number of
> words, a trait correlating closely with nuns who later escaped
> One sentence in Sister Nicolette's essay, for example, reads, "After I
> finished the eighth grade in 1921 I desired to become an aspirant at
> Mankato but I myself did not have the courage to ask the permission of my
> parents so Sister Agreda did it in my stead and they readily gave their
> Compare that to the essay of another Mankato nun, who is in her late 90's
> and has performed steadily worse on the memory tests. The nun, who sat
> quietly by a window the other day, wrote in her essay, "After I left
> school, I worked in the post-office."
> The Nun Study's latest published findings offer similarly provocative
> ideas about how positive emotional state in early life may contribute to
> living longer. Experts say linking positive emotions in the
> autobiographies to longer life echoes other studies showing that
> depression increases risk of cardiovascular disease and that people rated
> as optimists on personality tests were more likely than pessimists to be
> alive 30 years later.
> The findings also raise questions like, What underlies the positive
> "How much of this is temperament?" Dr. Suzman said. "How much of it is
> affected by life events and critical relationships with parents, friends,
> teachers, peers?"
> Overall, Dr. Snowdon says, the nuns live significantly longer than other
> women. Of the 678 in the study, 295 are alive and are all 85 or older. In
> the Mankato convent alone, there have been seven centenarians, many free
> of dementia.
> One is Sister Esther Boor, who at 106 speeds through the labyrinth of
> halls with a royal blue walker, glazes ceramic nativity scenes for the
> gift shop and pedals an exercise bike every day, her black veil flapping,
> an orange towel draped over her legs for modesty.
> "Sometimes I feel like I'm 150, but I just made up my mind I'm not going
> to give up," said Sister Esther, who gives her exercise therapists yellow
> notes with phrases from books she reads. "Think no evil, do no evil, hear
> no evil," she wrote recently, "and you will never write a best-selling
> Sister Esther's autobiographical essay, written 80 years ago, is
> similarly upbeat, speaking fondly of her family and her decision to
> become a nun.
> Dr. Snowdon's condition that nuns donate their brains was a stumbling
> block for some of the sisters.
> "I had a hard time with it," said Sister Claverine, who delayed signing
> up. "I had an image of myself being buried intact."
> But Sister Rita Schwalbe, the convent's health administrator when the
> study began, said she had told them that as nuns they had made "the
> difficult decision not to have children. This is another way of giving
> Many nuns now see brain donation through a liturgical lens < or a
> humorous one.
> Sister Nicolette said: "After the resurrection, our bodies will be
> perfect. We'll be so happy we won't care what happens to our brains."
> And Sister Miriam Thissen, 89, said: "Que será será. After you're dead,
> so what?"
> After completing the cognitive and physical tests < including identifying
> everyday objects and opening small doors with different latches < the
> nuns get summaries of their results and can see if their performance has
> "Every time I get out of there I feel like an idiot," said Sister Blanche
> Becker, 88, who does crossword puzzles and reads Danielle Steel novels.
> "Here I am of sound mind and body and I sit there and open and close
> little doors and look at pictures and try to remember them all. But maybe
> it's made me more tolerant of people with Alzheimer's. I am afraid of
> what's going to happen to me, yes. How stupidly am I going to act? Will I
> know people? How long will it take me to die?"
> Dr. Snowdon, 48, has become unusually close to his subjects. He says that
> when he was in Catholic school as a child, the nuns were more rigid and
> strict than the warm, good-humored School Sisters he sees almost as
> grandmothers. That relationship has made him acutely aware of sensitive
> ethical issues, like how forthright to be with nuns who show slight signs
> of Alzheimer's.
> "Do we really want to tell these dear women who are having memory loss
> that they are in the early phases of Alzheimer's, that they should start
> taking something?" he asked.
> Dr. Snowdon is quick to agree with other experts who say his conclusions
> need to be corroborated by other studies. There are limitations to the
> autobiographies, for instance, since the nuns knew a mother superior
> would see their writing and therefore may not have been totally candid.
> "He's pointed us in some directions," said Dr. Bill Thies, vice president
> for medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer's Association, based
> in Chicago, "but I think it's going to take a fair amount of work before
> we start making public health recommendations about behaviors that will
> prevent Alzheimer's."
> Still, Dr. Snowdon hopes his study will encourage people to do things to
> ward off the disease, like quit smoking and other stroke-causing
> behaviors, and read to children to stimulate language development. His
> current project involves analyzing old photographs of nuns for
> personality clues in their face muscles to see if personality correlates
> to Alzheimer's or longevity.
> And, although he cannot prove it scientifically, he contends the nuns'
> spirituality and community living helps them too.
> "You don't necessarily have to join a church or join a convent," Dr.
> Snowdon said. "But that love of other people, that caring, how good they
> are to each other and patient, that's something all of us can do."
> Several nuns agree.
> "The science is important," Sister Miriam said. "But the science is
> dictated by providence anyway."
> Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company | Privacy Information
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