Alzheimres/Nun Study



  1. Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases.
  2. Alzheimer's disease (AD), is one form of dementia that gradually gets worse over time. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior.

Who’s at risk

  1. Are older. However, developing AD is not a part of normal aging.
  2. Have a close blood relative, such as a brother, sister, or parent with AD.
  3. Have certain genes linked to AD, such as APOE
    • The APOE gene provides instructions for making a protein called apolipoprotein E. This protein combines with fats (lipids) in the body to form molecules called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are responsible for packaging cholesterol and other fats and carrying them through the bloodstream
  4. Being female
  5. Having high blood pressure for a long time
  6. History of head trauma

Two Types

  1. Early onset AD: Symptoms appear before age 60. This type is much less common than late onset. However, it tends to get worse quickly. Early onset disease can run in families. Several genes have been identified.
  2. Late onset AD: This is the most common type. It occurs in people age 60 and older. It may run in some families, but the role of genes is less clear
  3. The cause of AD is not clear. Your genes and environmental factors seem to play a role. Aluminum, lead, and mercury in the brain is no longer believed to be a cause of AD.


  1. MCI : Mild Cognitive Impairment
  2. Difficulty performing more than one task at a time
  3. Difficulty solving problems
  4. Forgetting recent events or conversations
  5. Taking longer to perform more difficult activities
  6. Difficulty performing tasks that take some thought, but used to come easily, such as balancing a checkbook, playing complex games (such as bridge), and learning new information or routines
  7. Getting lost on familiar routes
  8. Language problems, such as trouble finding the name of familiar objects
  9. Losing interest in things previously enjoyed, flat mood
  10. Misplacing items
  11. Personality changes and loss of social skills

As it worsens

  1. Change in sleep patterns, often waking up at night
  2. Delusions, depression, agitation
  3. Difficulty doing basic tasks, such as preparing meals, choosing proper clothing, and driving
  4. Difficulty reading or writing
  5. Forgetting details about current events
  6. Forgetting events in your own life history, losing awareness of who you are
  7. Hallucinations, arguments, striking out, and violent behavior
  8. Poor judgment and loss of ability to recognize danger
  9. Using the wrong word, mispronouncing words, speaking in confusing sentences
  10. Withdrawing from social contact

Severe AD

Can no longer:

  1. Understand language
  2. Recognize family members
  3. Perform basic activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing, and bathing


  1. Donepezil (Aricept),  Exelon, Side effects include stomach upset, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps, and fatigue.
  2.  Namenda, Possible side effects include agitation or anxiety.
  3. Other medicines may be needed to control aggressive, agitated, or dangerous behaviors. Examples include haloperidol, risperidone, and quetiapine. These are usually given in very low doses due to the risk of side effects including an increased risk of death.

It may be necessary to stop any medications that make confusion worse. Such medicines may include painkillers, cimetidine, central nervous system depressants, antihistamines, sleeping pills, and others


  1. Consume a low-fat diet.
  2. Eat cold-water fish (like tuna, salmon, and mackerel) rich in omega-3 fatty acids, at least 2 to 3 times per week.
  3. Reduce your intake of linoleic acid found in margarine, butter, and dairy products.
  4. Increase antioxidants like carotenoids, vitamin E, and vitamin C by eating plenty of darkly colored fruits and vegetables.
  5. Maintain a normal blood pressure.
  6. Stay mentally and socially active throughout your life.
  7. Consider taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin),

Statin ( Loveastatin, Simvastatin) drugs, a class of medications normally used for high cholesterol, may help lower your risk of AD

The Nun Study

  1. Study done by David Snowdon
  2. Study began in 1986

Been studying 678 School Sisters--painstakingly researching their personal and medical histories, testing them for cognitive function and even dissecting their brains after death

So one day in 1990, a nervous Snowdon stood in front of the assembled sisters in Mankato, many of whom he'd got to know as friends, and made his pitch. "We sat in our chairs and held our breath," recalls Sister Rita Schwalbe, who by then had joined Snowdon's research team. "Then one of the sisters piped up, 'He can have my brain, what good is it going to do me when I'm six feet under?' And that broke the ice."

In all, more than 90% of the sisters living in the Mankato convent agreed to donate their brains. After visiting six other convents, Snowdon ended up with a 68% consent rate overall, one of the highest in any tissue-donation study

  1. It was studied by snowdon that those Sisters who taught throughout their younger years had a moderate decline in age related dementia than those who didn’t.
  2. By 1997 Snowdon had more than 100 brain samples to examine.

Selecting only the brains of sisters who had earned a bachelor's degree--to eliminate any differences attributable to education--they found that among nuns with physical evidence of Alzheimer's in the brain, those who had evidence of strokes as well almost inevitably showed outward symptoms of dementia.

"If your brain is already progressing toward Alzheimer's," says Snowdon, "strokes or head trauma [which can produce similar kinds of brain damage] can put you over the edge." His advice: wear a helmet while biking, motorcycling or playing contact sports; buckle your seat belt; and drive a car with air bags. Meanwhile, keep strokes at bay by keeping your cardiovascular system in shape: avoid tobacco, get regular exercise and eat a balanced, healthy diet.

  1. In 1998 British researchers announced that Alzheimer's victims have low concentrations in their blood of the nutrient folate, also called folic acid

Folic acid deficiency plays a role in some forms of mental retardation in children and in cognitive problems in adults

  1. This time they searched for words suggesting positive emotions (such as happiness, love, hope, gratitude and contentment), as well as negative ones (sadness, fear, confusion and shame). Snowdon found that the sisters expressing negative emotions did not live as long as the sisters conveying more positive ones.
  2. The study is not yet complete. Since not all of the Sisters have passed, Snowdon and his team are still reviewing information, as well as searching for a way to tell what percentage based upon information one remembers what one’s chances are to avoid this horrible disease

The Book for further reading

  1. Aging with Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives by David Snowdon
    • Available at