Dementia is not a pretty disease and there is still so much that the experts have to discover about it before we can ever contemplate talking about cures. So if there is anything simple and practical that we can do to prevent, or reduce the risk of developing dementia, then we should take it seriously.
But first, let me tell you a story: a story of hope. In 2001 a Dr Snowden convinced a congregation of Catholic Nuns to take part in an ongoing study into Alzheimers dementia, and he also convinced them to donate their brains …. after they died!
At the start of the study most of the Nuns were already elderly, between the ages of 75 and 94, 20 years later the researchers already have over 500 of the Community’s brains to study. For the scientists, this is a gold mine of information as in most studies there are so many “variables” that they have to take into consideration. Here, the Nuns didn’t smoke, rarely drank alcohol, followed the same diet and lived in the same environment. But the big plus was that they recorded their histories that were kept at the Convents from the time that they had signed up as postulants, and these were made accessible to the researchers.
So what have been the results? In a nutshell, those who had a positive spin on life lived, on average, 10 years longer than their gloomier confreres! Also, those with a positive spin on life were also less likely to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease in post mortem findings. And interestingly, there were 15 brains that showed the classical, pathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease, but the Nuns whose brains they were had not exhibited dementia in their lifetime. These were amongst those Nuns who had a positive, active perspective on life.
Dr. Snowdon hopes his study will encourage people to do things to ward off the disease, like quit smoking and other stroke-causing behaviors, and read to children to stimulate language development.