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Aging with Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives [Paperback]

David Snowdon
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 30 2002
In 1986 Dr. David Snowdon, one of the world’s leading experts on Alzheimer’s disease, embarked on a revolutionary scientific study that would forever change the way we view aging—and ultimately living. Dubbed the “Nun Study” because it involves a unique population of 678 Catholic sisters, this remarkable long-term research project has made headlines worldwide with its provocative discoveries.
Yet Aging with Grace is more than a groundbreaking health and science book. It is the inspiring human story of these remarkable women—ranging in age from 74 to 106—whose dedication to serving others may help all of us live longer and healthier lives.

Totally accessible, with fascinating portraits of the nuns and the scientists who study them, Aging with Grace also offers a wealth of practical findings:

• Why building linguistic ability in childhood may protect against Alzheimer’s
• Which ordinary foods promote longevity and healthy brain function
• Why preventing strokes and depression is key to avoiding Alzheimer’s
• What role heredity plays, and why it’s never too late to start an exercise program
• How attitude, faith, and community can add years to our lives

A prescription for hope, Aging with Grace shows that old age doesn’t have to mean an inevitable slide into illness and disability; rather it can be a time of promise and productivity, intellectual and spiritual vigor—a time of true grace.

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From Publishers Weekly

Since 1986, the author, an epidemiologist, has directed a research project dubbed the Nun Study. According to Snowdon, who previously studied Seventh-Day Adventists, religious group members make ideal subjects because of their similar and somewhat insular lives. Specifically, he has been tracking the lives of 678 elderly nuns who are members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, to assess the effects of aging. Snowdon describes in detail a pilot study he conducted with the sisters in Mankato, Wis., on the link between level of education and disabilities related to aging. This initial research convinced him to expand his base to other convents and to focus primarily on Alzheimer's disease. The participants, ranging in age from 75 to 104, agreed to provide access to their medical and personal histories and, after death, to donate their brain tissue to the project. What distinguishes this study is Snowdon's decision not to maintain the usual "objective" distance from his subjects but rather to become emotionally involved with them. His commitment to treat them with "care and respect" is readily apparent in the many warm and sympathetic anecdotes and his expression of deeply felt grief when any of the sisters becomes incapacitated by Alzheimer's or dies. Among the project's findings is a clear correlation between a low rate of Alzheimer's and high linguistic ability. Snowdon has also found a positive relationship between the consumption of certain antioxidants (e.g., lycopene, found in pink grapefruit, tomatoes and watermelon), an exercise program and an optimistic outlook and aging successfully. Although the study is still under way, readers will certainly appreciate the early insights to be gleaned from Snowdon's human- (rather than statistic-) centered and compassionate story.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Since 1986, the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, MN, have opened their lives, personal histories, and medical records in an extraordinary way, thereby offering researchers a unique view of Alzheimer's and aging. Snowdon, a professor of neurology and director of the Nun Study at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, have studied this population of 678 Catholic sisters, some of whom have remained active and lucid all their lives while others have become demented. This is an ideal population to study, for it is carefully controlled: income is not a factor, all the subjects are nonsmokers, and all have similar access to diet, healthcare, and housing. Snowdon writes with empathy and affection of these sisters, who also generously agreed to donate their brains for postmortem pathological studies. From this research, Snowdon explains, it emerged that pathological changes did not always correlate with observable changes, that linguistic ability seems to protect against Alzheimer's, that prevention of stroke and heart diseases can help avoid dementia, and that heredity, diet, and exercise also play a part. Blending personal histories with scientific fact, this inspirational and fascinating look at growing older is highly recommended. [Snowden's research was recently profiled in a cover story in Time magazine. Ed.] Jodith Janes, Cleveland Clinic Fdn.
- Jodith Janes, Cleveland Clinic Fdn.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimistic � Filled with Joy and Hope May 30 2004
Ever since my father's diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, I've worried about the little things I forget. Never mind that I've always been a little absentminded, I fretted about whether I received the dreaded APOE-4 gene in the genetic package he bequeathed me. But this book gave me hope - lots of it! It shows clearly that the symptoms of Alzheimer's are not merely a result of your genes but also of how you've lived your life. Reading about the nun who, in spite of a brain riddled with tangles and plaques, like the Energizer Bunny, kept on going and going, gave me plenty to hope for.
Caring, kindness, love, service - all are integral to the community of nuns. Theirs is a joyful story and a fascinating read. Don't miss it. Six Stars!
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The story of the nun study will hit home to scores of millions of Americans, for most of us have aging parents or grandparents, or we have reached advanced years ourselves. Snowdon tells the story of his research into Alzheimer's and related illnesses with both clarity and compassion. He tells their story both personal and biological. In these pages, many of us will read our own futures.
In "Aging with Grace," Snowdon walks the lay-reader through the steps and stages that made his now-famous "nun study" possible. You may have caught bits of this study in Time Magazine, The Donohue Show, or many other popular media. This is the story behind the story. It is the story of the nuns themselves. Snowdon uses the nun's own words to describe where they came from, what they aspired to as young initiates, and where they are going as they move on into their advanced years.
The book isn't all drama. Snowdon provides useful background on Alzheimer's disease, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. He goes on to draw both firm and tentative conclusions. In short, he sprinkles in advice based on sound, careful, peer-reviewed, scientific research. You'll learn what parents can do for their children, what children can do for their aging parents, and what various factors may contribute to or exacerbate senile dementia.
Lastly, this book stands in sharp contrast to the fraud so frequently perpetuated on a desperate and uninformed public by various "alternative" medical practices. Snowdon's work provides an excellent example of how medical research is done.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A "nun-angle" on the nun study Feb. 10 2002
I have read over the customer reviews, and agree with those who find this account of the "Nun Study" inspirational, uplifting and wonderful to read. Although the information about Alzheimer's is the reason the study got so much publicity, I think there's another reason for why the book is so powerful: reading about these elderly nuns is a visit to a way of life and an era of women's religion which is now slipping away. With the deaths of these participants and women like them, it will be gone forever. This group is almost the last generation of nuns for whom becoming and remaining a nun was a popular option for idealistic young women. There are no younger cohorts of nuns to take the places of these marvelous elderly ladies; perhaps one reason so many of the latter kept very active up through their 80s and even 90s is because there were few replacements for them in religious orders. To celebrate their lives before they die seems to be an underlying theme of the book, quite apart from the medical information about aging.
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5.0 out of 5 stars AN UPBEAT SURPRISE Dec 5 2001
A book about very old Catholic nuns and their experiences with the dementia of Alzheimers disease--now THAT sounds like a downer, wouldn't you say? Which goes to show once again that we can't judge a book by its, well, by its subject matter alone. AGING WITH GRACE is distinctly UPBEAT, indeed inspiring: I read it from cover to cover in about a day and a half because I couldn't put it down for long.
David Snowden designed and now directs the research project which focuses on an order of Catholic nuns, The School Sisters of Notre Dame. The purpose of the research is to find answers to the maddening mysteries of Alzheimers disease, the sword of Damocles that hangs over so many of us, whether we talk about it or not. But who knew that a shy epidemiologist could WRITE so well?
Snowden gives us quite a load of fairly detailed information in the course of his book, but he sandwiches that in between such warm and charming portraits and anecdotes of his research subjects that we are willing to sit still for the science. We get to know a dozen or so of the sisters, from 85 years old to 106, and through them, come to understand a little more of the challenge of this dreaded disease. For example, can someone have fairly advanced Alzheimers yet appear free of dementia? Can the brief written autobiography of a teen-aged girl foretell Alzheimers sixty years later? David Snowden's keen mind and painstaking research may unlock crucial mysteries; but it is his warm heart and delightful, grace-filled subjects that make this book a must read.
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That's what one 92-year old nun said when asked to take part in "The Nun Study," an ongoing effort by author Snowdon and others to learn more about how we age and why some folks retain their mental and physical abilities into their nineties and beyond, while others fail much earlier.
I picked up this book because my great-great-aunt, Sister Matthia Gores, is one of the nuns "featured" in it. (She died a couple years back, just shy of her 105th birthday.)
I found the science interesting; but the book does not offer a blueprint to growing older without losing mental faculties or growing frail. It turns out the science is giving a more complicated picture of aging than that.
But what really appeals to me about this story is the desire of these women to keep growing their minds right up to the ends of their lives. (One nun got a masters in theology when she was 71; one began missionary service in Africa only when she reached her 70s.) It is this faith that we can continue to expand our own human potential while serving God and our fellow humans that makes this book such a delightful read.
I don't care if I live to 105, but I hope I can be as brave about seizing opportunities to grow as these wonderful women have been.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Aging with Grace
I ordered two copies of Aging with Grace and I am still waiting for one copy to arrive, so I will decline from making any comments until I have received the second copy.
Published on April 26 2011 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Both Accessible and Profound
David Snowdon's Aging with Grace is the first book on a clinical topic I have been unable to put down. Read more
Published on Nov. 16 2003 by K. Dellaria
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating
A good friend of mine lent this book to me. Although I do not have a family member who has dementia, I thought this book was well written, that the stories were compellingly told,... Read more
Published on Dec 9 2002
1.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Icing
Snowdon stands well on the shoulders of others, and he effects a delightful presentation of their findings. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Humanist Approach to Research
This is an excellent, exciting book to read on the realities and humanistic elements to conducting a research study. Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2002 by Dale Avers
4.0 out of 5 stars Study of aging through lives of nuns
I eagerly looked forward to find out the causes of dementia, like the Alzheimer's disease, and the idea to study a homogeneous group - nuns - for scientific reasons appealed to me. Read more
Published on Aug. 25 2001 by Damienn D
5.0 out of 5 stars grow old without fear
At the age of 59 I was slightly afraid of what I would find out when I read this book. Instead, I was encouraged by Dr. Read more
Published on July 30 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars A Warm, Interesting Report on Longevity and Quality of Life!
Most books about science operate mostly from the head. This book also has a heart, and gives you a close human connection with the people being examined. Read more
Published on May 21 2001 by Donald Mitchell
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