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Aging with Grace the Nun Study Summary

The book “Aging with Grace” explains the realities that people experience in their daily lives. These realities include aging, poverty and even diseases. The target group of the book is the Catholic nuns and the realities of life that they go through. It targets the health and science issues that affect the nuns. Being a religious group, the author admits that he thought that the nuns would be the ideal group since they would be honest. He therefore decided to carry out a research on cervical and breast cancer. The author admits that when he first entered the convent, all the nuns looked fine and healthy. Many of them were exercising in the convent gymnasium; others were watching and cheering on the baseball games while others were writing official letters to other Catholic representatives. He also admits that most of the nuns had earlier worked as teachers, so they were in active mental states. Since they had similar levels of education, diet and lifestyles, it was easier to deal with them. When he reveals the idea to them, the nuns humbly accepted the concepts.

Due to the fact that the nuns had similar diet and lifestyles, the experiment target’s was why some nuns developed dementia while others did not.  It was also targeting the effect of Alzheimer’s disease on the brains and how the aging occurs with grace. The views of the nuns reveal the secrets of living longer while staying healthy. Having grown up like an alter boy, the author understands the humble and gracious lifestyles of the nuns. The nuns, who are very old, with their ages ranging from 79 to 100 years of age, agree to donate their brains when they die. They believe in the grace of God in order to live longer than expected. The nuns believe in faith, wisdom and spirituality as driving forces behind their long lives. For instance, the 104 year old Sister Matthia, who passed away in 1998, was very active irrespective of her age. She could say a prayer to each of the four thousand people that she had taught in the earlier years. She also knitted mittens daily.

Aging with Grace the Nun Study Summary

According to Snowdon (2001), the major objective of the study is to emotionally interact with the aged and to know understand their feelings. He recommends that they should be treated with care and special attention. He conducts his research in a manner that allows for efficient interactions with the nuns. He also examines the relationship between the Alzheimer’s disease and the ability of one to express himself or herself in oral and written terms. As explored by Snowdon (2001), those who were able to express themselves in the most excellent and impeccable terms with no difficulties were less likely to develop signs of the disease. Additionally, those who were active in community were less likely to develop the disease, as well those who were devoted in daily readings of materials. Other factors such as diet and heredity were also proved to avoid any sign of the disease.

The work of Snowdon is a personal encounter with the nuns and the moving unfolding series of events in their lives. The autobiographies that were written by the nuns in their early lives indicate that the same fluent and creative language that they used is not the same as the language that they write in their present age. It is important to note that the as the age progresses, they find other things and activities to concentrate on. After the nuns had died and their brains taken as per their wishes, it was noted that their brains did not decay but was still very active.

Snowdon also explains the psychological impact of dementia on the family members in the event that someone suffers the disease. He explains the need to give care and support to these patients without fear. Being a disease which takes a process according to the research conducted, it is almost difficult to fully diagnose it. It is, however, today argued that plagues and tangles are the major symptoms of the disease. It is approximated that one third of the nuns whose brains detected the disease had no earlier signs of the disease since they scored well in the mental tests that were administered to them while they were alive. For example, According to the article, Sister Mary had scored highly in the cognitive tests, yet at her death at age 101 the brain autopsy showed Alzheimer’s disease with neurofibrillary tangles and plaques.

It is therefore noticeable that though Snowdon conducted a scientific research, there was the friendly emotional interaction with the nuns. The nuns agreed to participate in the research and revealed their personal and professional histories, which made the research process very easy. Having been an alter boy in his early years of life, Snowdon understood the lifestyles and operations within the convent setting. As readers of his research study, we also learn about his personal life. He had prior knowledge on how to approach the nuns in the most convenient way. This compelled the nuns to give the honest and sufficient information concerning the research.

One of the greatest strengths of the research is that the target group is appropriate and convenient. There is maximum co operation from the nuns who gave honest views of the questions that were asked by Snowdon. The approach that was used was friendly and effective. Due to the fact that Snowdon was once a alter boy, he interacted with the nuns in the most adorable ways. The nuns were women who showed maximum interests. An earlier study had targeted men and it was rated unsuccessful. It was discovered that women are more passionate and tender in their ways of interactions with other people. Additionally, the nuns were spiritual and God fearing. This was a guarantee that they would co operate and give the most credible views and opinions. Snowdon’s basic idea was to find out how the disease affects the aged people who were intelligent in their youth. The aged group of nuns was therefore most convenient since they had all been teachers in the mission schools. The target group was also convenient since they had similar eating habits. For example, they all took very minimal alcohol or no alcohol at all. They had similar spiritual lifestyles in the convent as well as similar social lives. This is to say that their prayer schedules were similar and to some extent they even cited similar prayers.

Secondly, the approach that was used to collect and gather data was convenient and friendly to the target group. Due to the level of close interactions, the nuns felt appreciated and cared for. They were more willing even to donate their brains upon their demise. Snowdon did not just impose the scientific methods of data collection, but he used a more social and psychological approach. Bearing in mind that the nuns were aging, the data collection methodology was flexible and it allowed for patience. The data that was needed was readily available from the convent archives. Each of the seven convents that were centers of the research had the data in their archives. The data had existed for over the last 100 years. The data entailed their family lives, the grades that they had earlier scored in their respective schools, their earlier occupations and professions and their exact ages. The nuns were also willing to volunteer most of the information to the best of their knowledge. The fact that the nuns were also active in teaching and educating others also boosted their brains functionally. This was a fundamental aspect in the study since the same brains would be used as data upon their demise.

The quiet and peaceful lifestyles of the nuns were an important aspect in the research study. This was important because the reliable states of their minds were assured. This was attributed by the fact that the nuns had peaceful times when they would meditate and reflect on prayer.

However, one wonders how the results in random selection of the target group would be. The research only targeted the nuns who had similar lifestyles; hence the results of the research were similar. Most research procedures involve random selection so that credible results are achieved. For instance, a portion of the nuns should have been sampled as well as another portion of the married population. Since the convent nuns are unmarried, their lifestyles totally differ from the married people. Married people, for example, have their families and careers to concentrate on.

Another weakness of the study is that it is not very clear whether the nuns were consistent in their spiritual lives. It may be assumed that the freedom from the complicated family lives may have been a contributing factor to the successful and powerful results of the research. It would have been ideal if the lives of the ordinary people who are unfamiliar with spirituality. The reality is that the nuns only form a small portion of the entire population. It is also evident that most of the people have ordinary lives and spirituality is only a small aspect of such lives. The stable state of mind also assured the good physical health. For instance, the oldest and aged participant was 107 years of age when she died. At 98, she was strong and she would visit the sick and work on the switchboard.

According to Snowdon (2001), the fact that the traces of Alzheimer disease were detected in the brains of the nuns who had scored highly in the physical and cognitive tests affirm that the disease is a gradual process. It is also noticeable that the higher the level of education among the nuns, the lower the risks of the disease. Therefore it was argued that the disease is more of a social factor. For instance, when the autobiographies of the nuns were retrieved from the archives, the highly educated nuns used complex, well punctuated sentences with an excellent command of the language. These autobiographies were written in their late teenage lives. However, when they died, only a small portion of the disease was traced in their brains.

Dr Snowdon admits that keeping mental fit is fundamental in living long healthy lives. The idea of going for outdoor games and taking short or long walks is equally important. In his journal article, he admits that is critical to make important investments while in the youth stage. Dr Snowdon advises that in order to age gracefully, and then it is never too late or too early to improve the mental and physical health of a person. This is important in living long healthier lives. He also recommends that spirituality should be embraced for long lives. Spirituality brings about peace and wisdom. It also entails meditation which involves sober reflection upon one’s relationship with the Creator.

Moreover, one of the most important lessons learnt is that education does not only improve the intellectual capacity of and individual, it also reduces the exposure of the individual to the Alzheimer disease. This is an astonishing revelation. The efficient linguistic competence of and individual also reduces the risks of the disease. It is therefore critical that parents and guardians expose their children to excellent learning facilities so that they master language well while they are still young. The nuns who demonstrated fabulous linguistic skills in their teen autobiographies had little trace of the disease on their brains.

The research also educates on the types of foods that protect the aging process. Having fed on similar balance diets that were well prepared, the nuns’ physical features did not tally with their respective ages. Dr Snowdon admits that he was astonished that even the very aged nuns still performed and conducted the same daily chores that they carried out in their youth.  It is also notable that avoiding conditions such as strokes and depression helps in curbing dementia. This is where spirituality comes in handy since it brings peace and calmness upon an individual’s life.

According to the article “Alzheimer’s Research Success Stories,|” an individual’s attitude towards life plays a vital role in the aging process. People who are optimistic about their lives are always enthusiastic about each new day. They are eager to do something different each new day as opposed to pessimists who grow old very fast. Most pessimistic people also tend to be suicidal and over dependent on other people. One’s faith is also essential in successful aging process. The strong belief in God and in God helps one to enjoy life to the maximum even in the old age.

  • Snowdon, D. (2001). Aging with grace: what the nun study teaches us about leading longer, healthier, and more meaningful lives. USA: Bantam Books.
  • Lichtenstein Creative Media (2004). Alzheimer’s Research Success Stories. Published by Lichtenstein Creative Media.

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