Monday, June 06, 2005

The nuns' study and aging

This link is about a study done with rats and their aging brains. But it reminded me of the nuns' study on aging. Dr. David Snowdon wrote a great book called, "Aging with Grace." In it he tells of his work with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. He asked them to donate their brains (after death, of course!) so he could study how Alzheimer's disease affects the brain.

His findings were astounding. While many sisters whose brains showed Alzheimer's plaques had shown symptoms of the disease, about a third didn't. That's right--many of these sisters had damage to their brains from Alzheimer's, even to a significant degree. But while alive they had shown no symptoms of the disease. This finding revolutionized what scientists had previously thought about the brain. Evidently the nuns' brains were able to develop more connections that compensated for the neurons lost to Alzheimer's plaques. So they were able to stave off the disease. Some of them probably would have developed symptoms if they had lived longer, Snowdon thinks. Still, the study broke open how we understand the aging brain.

5 comments:

Sixtina87 said...

WOW, thats a different subject but highly interesting!!!! I know a couple School Sisters of Notre Dame!! I will be seeing one next week at a retreat for the Diocesan Emmaus Days!!!! ITs amazing how these Sisters would donate their brains for this study and how their brain could change medical history and even find a cure someday too!!!!!!!

Seismic said...

I know some people in the Department of Motor Vehicles that have already donated there brains - while they were still alive - and they continued to perform as usual.

Some congressmen also offered to donate their brains - but were rejected ont he grounds of having experience no recent brainwave activity.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Seismic, that's a good one!

the anchoress said...

I remember that study - it was fascinting. As I recall, the suggestion was that the puzzles and word games that were a part of the sisters' recreation was considered a possible cause for their continued brain-health.

But I suspect regular prayer might have helped as well! ;-)

Paul N. said...

I remember that study also. Makes one wonder what exactly it is that keeps the brain going so well. Is it the extra "connected-ness" to God they experience that the rest of us bums don't? My theory anyway.

I wonder what they'd find in old priests, if a comparison could be drawn.

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