TBT: The Nun Study

In 1986, Professor David Snowden started studying the onset of Alzheimer's among 678 nuns. 

While the study is still in progress, his work has indicated that there are certain lifetime behaviors and/or tendencies that can influence the onset of Alzheimers later in life.


Autobiographies with "Idea density" and a positive outlook

Dr. Snowden believes that idea density and positivity have something to do with Alzheimer's prevention.  This ongoing longitudinal study focuses on an ideal population in terms of a uniform lifestyle amongst its subjects (the nuns). And because lifetime journaling is regular for nuns, Dr. Snowden has been able to use journal entries from early adulthood as a reference to identify things like idea density (complexity, vivacity, fluency, etc.) and positive thinking. What he continues to find is that these two variables are key indicators in determining which subjects developed Alzheimer's later in life. In fact, roughly 80% of the nuns identified as lacking linguistic density and positive thinking went on to develop Alzheimer's later in life, compared to only 10% amongst those not lacking. Confirmation bias could certainly be at play, but these figures definitely give legitimacy to how reinforcing neural pathways can preserve the function of the human brain.  Some nuns are even calling for further structural analysis of the brain...


“Through brain donation, we can help unravel the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease"

- Sister R. Schwalbe


The nun study might be creating More questions than it is answers, but it is building a strong case for keeping the brain active.  It's good to know there there are behaviors to work towards that can better create longevity and overall mental capacity.


Belluck, P. (2001, May 06). Nuns Offer Clues to Alzheimer's and Aging. Retrieved August 23, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/07/us/nuns-offer-clues-to-alzheimer-s-and-aging.html

[Ethan Rozin]. (2006, Dec. 28). nun study video. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw2lafKIEio. 

R. (2012, April 26). Aging with Grace. Retrieved August 23, 2017, from https://robinmd.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/aging-with-grace/