On 01.02.02, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Too late for surgery, I had chemotherapy, which failed. In May the chemotherapy was changed and I was soon in remission which was celebrated and welcome and lasted nine years - until October 2011. There was progression in 2011 so more treatment was indicated and I am now back in partial remission. But I'm not only a cancer patient - I also enjoy my family, walk my dogs and am learning to draw and paint. Life is good!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Aging with grace

Now that I'm reassured that I will live through the next year or so I figured I better do something to earn some continuing education units so I can maintain my license.  There are several ways to do this, but reading a book is the simplest - and even that's a challenge with perpetually tearing eyes, chemobrain and a short attention span.

So I chose to reread a book I'd enjoyed before (but hadn't claimed for ceus) and knew to be a riveting read - David Snowdon's book about the famous Nun Study to study aging that he set up at the University of Minnesota and later moved to the University of Kentucky.  You may not have heard of the Nun Study, but so much of what we know about aging and Altzheimer's Disease was gleaned from Snowdon's work with these women.

The Nun Study involved over 600 women from the same religious order - the School Sisters of Notre Dame - who had similar life histories and life styles because they had been in the order for six or more decades when they joined the study.  And, by a quirk of fate, they had all been required to write short autobiographies when they were young women.  They were tested for cognitive function annually.  Furthermore, in an act of supreme generosity, in order to participate in this longitudinal research, they agreed to donate their brains when they died.

Just think of the plethora of information those study features involved!  Many variables were avoided because of the similarities of diet and daily life, the autobiographies proved to be a treasure trove of information to assess language ability and structure when the women were young, annual testing showed cognitive changes over time in their later years and the brain tissue itself showed the plaques and tangles of Altzheimer's Disease - or the lack thereof - of women in their 80s, 90s and yes, their 100s as the oldest study participant lived to be 106.

This book is easily read and lacking in statistical analysis and scientific jargon that lay readers (like me!) might not understand.  It's fascinating to see how the study was set up and evolved over time - because, yes, as the decades passed the researchers noticed new angles that could be studied and went back over the autobiographies, testing and brain samples to look for additional information that could potentially help the rest of us avoid the devastation of Altzheimer's Disease.

The nuns that caught my attention were the ones with severely plaqued and tangled brains who had no cognitive impairments in later life.  How did they do that????

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