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Nuns Devoted to Alzheimer Research

Posted December. 13, 2006 07:13,   


In Korean society, which shuns old age, Alzheimer’s disease is like a death sentence. It is doubly burdensome for the person involved, who loses the right to age with grace, as well as for his or her family, who have to observe the process of their loved ones slowly fading away.

Approximately 350,000 people, or 8.3 percent of the elderly population, in Korea are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It was previously thought that the disease was a natural process of aging, but the pathology and characteristics of the disease have been discovered to a certain extent. The scientific realities behind the disease were due to the passion-driven research and work of many scientists. The “research of the nuns” that this book describes may be a prime example. The author traces the lives of 600 Catholic nuns, and reveals the differences between those who did or did not suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The nuns were leading communal lives in a similar environment in the convent, limiting personal external factors that may affect the results of the research, and had their past lifestyles recorded and preserved, thus being perfect candidates for research on Alzheimer’s disease.

Many facts have been discovered about this disease through the “research on nuns.” For instance, people who were verbose since an early age are much less likely to suffer from it. Also, folic acid found in plants is good for the disease, and continuous exercise and study can also help prevent the aging of the brain.

But more importantly than the results of the scientific research is the fact that the nuns offered to reveal their lives and private stories, as well as donating their brains. One nun left these notable words when committing herself to the research and volunteering for autopsy.

“By becoming nuns, we made the difficult choice not to have children. By donating our brains, we can help solve the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease, and give the gift of life to the next generation in another way.”

The active and positive lifestyle of the nuns and the life stories of several of them in their old age are interesting. Rather than a formal book on medicine, it is a reflective piece that allows us to ponder on how to live a life with grace.