Catholic Sisters that cooperated to the elucidation of the Alzheimer disease
by David Snowdown
(Japanese translation published in 2004 by DHC Corporation, pp. 292, \1600 + taxes)

Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)

"I want to live long, but I don't like to grow senile," such is most probably the wish of many. The director of our center just celebrated happily his 70th birthday. They say that his is the average age for Jesuits in Japan!! The citizens of industrial countries face the problem of old age and this has become a serious issue for religious organizations.
Dr. David Snow conducted a research on the Alzheimer disease based on American Sisters. The book he has published reports on the results of the research done from 1986, known as "Nun Study" that is still going on, to which 678 American Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame have participated.
The "Nun Study" focuses on over 75 years old Sisters. It keeps records of their life histories, checking regularly their psychological health and at the time of death, using autopsy, examines the condition of their brains. The research looks for any kind of relationship between the life environment and the state of health, during senility, and the origins of Alzheimer disease.
There were several reasons to select the Notre Dame Sisters to cooperate in the study.
Firstly, they were living in similar environments and it was comparatively easy to perform the research. Secondly, since they are dedicated to education they have many old-age members (it seems that high level education assures long lives). Thirdly -- this becomes the main reason -- the Notre Dame Congregation makes all members write their life records upon entering the convent and after joining the Congregation detailed personal records are kept. In other words, it is possible to obtain perfect personal life records of each Sister. Thinking of research on senility this was a very valuable situation.
The research goes on, and up to date, no special revolutionary results could be found yet. Nevertheless, there are some clear findings. One of them might be that, seemingly, there could be established some close relationship between the life patterns, especially languages used during the youth and the state of health of the brain at old age.
The Sisters that became objects of the study have, after joining their Congregation, similar life styles and educational levels.
Thus, on the opposite, by studying their life environments when they were young, one can clearly find out the relationship that has with the state of mind during the old age. The result seemed to be that somehow "during youth the intensity of their emotions was positively high and the more people wrote difficult sentences their brains at old age were healthier." In other words, Alzheimer disease does not easily occur among those who during childhood enjoyed children tales for boys and girls. I would like to repeat it again, this is not a specific remedy for Alzheimer disease and the author of the book is not a salesman that offers cheaply secrets to live healthy long lives.
Mr. Snowdown has studied the life records of 678 Sisters during the last 15 years and has accompanied about 60% of them at death time. He has experienced very warm and deeply faithful religious communities. To some respect their life environment looked even more familiar than common families have. Senior Sisters, no matter they suffered from bodily or mental diseases or they remained healthy till the end, were all the same way radiant with full respect.
The author of the book stresses that surely many lessons to live healthy at old age are gathered inside the life style of this religious congregation.
Certainly, this book is full of recent informative knowledge concerning Alzheimer. But, what is most valuable is that it makes one reflect on the meaning of becoming of old age and of living together with senior people.

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