Good news on brain-aging from The Nun Study


Healthy Brains for a Lifetime

We really DON’T have to lose it as we age

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
Reflections on Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection

Cognitive decline is NOT inevitable

A quick review before some data that will bring smiles to a lot of worried faces (especially for writers!):

There is still a lot to learn from School Sisters of Notre Dame “Nun” Study — the longitudinal scientific exploration of aging and Alzheimer’s disease originally funded by the National Institute on Aging.  Data, tissue, and genetic material collected in this landmark study will, no doubt, prove invaluable to a great many meta-studies long into the future.

Thanks to the Sisters’ unprecedented generosity of spirit, however, we now know a lot more about how the brain ages than we did, even a few years ago.  We also know more about dementia and what factors seem to be neuro-protective.

The oft-cited study centers on a group of a relatively homogeneous order of 678 Roman Catholic sisters (American, no drug use, little or no alcohol or tobacco, similar housing and reproductive histories, etc.) — which minimizes extraneous variables that may confound other similar research.

Along with, ultimately, hundreds of others in their order, a few brave nuns agreed to volunteer for a long-term study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease, hoping to provide evidence that might be used to teach the rest of us how to escape the worst ravages of this heartbreaking illness.

To repeat a comment from my last article [You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age: Moving Past Mind-Blips and “Senior Moments”]:

Upon autopsy, even some of the individuals discovered to have what used to be accepted as “positive Alzheimer’s identifiers” (senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles), managed to escape the behavioral devastation of the disease.

Others had only recently begun to exhibit signs of mental decline in the year or two before their deaths (at 80 and beyond), despite brains that would have predicted a significantly earlier onset of dementia.

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