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April 26, 2024

What Can We Learn About Aging From the “Nun Study” 

Category: Memory Care

Author: Rich Richmond

In his study Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease: Lessons From the Nun Study, Dr. David A Snowdon, PhD. Explores the longevity of Sister Mary and 678 other sisters who participated in the Nun Study. 

“Sister Mary, the gold standard for the Nun Study, was a remarkable woman with high cognitive test scores before her death at 101 years of age. What is more remarkable is that she maintained this high status despite having abundant neurofibrillary tangles and senile plaques, the classic lesions of Alzheimer’s disease. Findings from Sister Mary and all 678 participants in the Nun Study may provide unique clues about the etiology of aging and Alzheimer’s disease, exemplify what is possible in old age, and show how the clinical expression of some diseases may be averted.

One fascinating conclusion was ascertained through the study: cognitive impairment is not an inevitable consequence of aging and disease. This is remarkable considering the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years beyond the of 65 and that the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060. This, according to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. Sister Mary and the other participants completed cognitive tests throughout the study and agreed to have their brains donated for research at the end of life. Despite having physical evidence of Alzheimer’s disease, sister Mary exhibited very little cognitive decline on these tests. 

So, what gives? What made Sister Mary and the 677 other participants in the nun-study so remarkable? How did these nuns live to an average age of 88 while maintaining relative physical and mental health to their respective ages? More importantly, what can we learn from this?

Dr. Snowdon makes some logical observations that perhaps these nuns live longer and healthier lives based on their practices, community lifestyle, positive influences, and healthy nutrition. Basically, living a happier, more connected lifestyle may lead to a longer, healthier life.

We see this every day in Traditions communities. Daily community activities, communal dining, and family visits create a positive atmosphere for seniors to thrive. Each senior in our care has a unique life story, something that is very important to how we care for him or her. The Varietas® Memory Care Program relies on the things we learn about your loved one to comfort and connect with them in a warm and nurturing environment. 

Studies like the non-study show that socialization has a positive impact on seniors and can reduce, even prevent the signs of depression. So, each resident’s Daily Routine consists of their own combination of therapeutic and positive stimulation, including expressive arts, exercise, nutrition, reminiscing, cognitive activities and social engagement with peers, staff and families.

The Varietas® Program is a model of caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias. The tenets of the program are proven to maximize quality of life for individuals living with these disorders.

Psychosocial interventions improve cognitive abilities, enhance emotional well-being, reduce behavioral symptoms and promote everyday functioning. We do this through cognitive stimulation, cognitive training, reminiscent therapy, aromatherapy and music therapy. Psychosocial Interventions are proven to:

  • Improve sleep
  • Improve appetite
  • Reduce difficult behaviors
  • Reduce medication usage
  • Reduce falls
  • Promote social engagement in activities, 
  • Enhance resident, family and staff interaction

While every case and every individual are unique, it seems clear that positivity, community, and evidence-based interventions have a positive impact on those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurological diseases. Schedule a visit to find out how our approach to memory care can have a positive impact on seniors and their families.

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