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Time magazine cover Nun Study in National Spotlight

The conversation was the type that happens almost inevitably with the person who happens to be seated next to you on an airplane.

"What do you do for a living?" asked the passenger seated next to David Snowdon, director of the Nun Study at the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

"I do Alzheimer's research," Snowdon replied.

"So what do you think of the Nun Study?" asked Snowdon's fellow passenger.

Unless you haven't seen or heard any news reports in recent months, you too probably have heard of the Nun Study. The study was on the front page of the May 7 New York Times, in USA Today on May 14, and was the cover story of the May 14 Time magazine. Stories also appeared on various national programs, including the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and Fresh Air on National Public Radio.

The study, led by Snowdon, who is a professor of neurology in the UK College of Medicine, is in the national and international spotlight as a result of his new book, Aging with Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us about Leading Longer, Healthier and More Meaningful Lives. In the book, Snowdon offers a behind-the-scenes look at this landmark scientific study and the women who make it possible.

Since 1986, Snowdon has led an ongoing research program that is profoundly changing the way we view aging and old age. Known as the Nun Study, the project involves 678 members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame religious congregation in seven convents across the United States. The sisters, who range in age from 75 to 106, have allowed unprecedented access to their personal and medical histories and undergo rigorous annual mental and physical testing.

Perhaps most remarkably, each nun also has pledged to donate her brain for Snowdon's research after she dies. With one of the largest pools of brain donors in the world, the Nun Study has yielded groundbreaking information about what we can do to help prevent Alzheimer's disease and live active, productive lives well into old age.

"Aging is not the cause of the health problems of old age," Snowdon writes. "Disease is the culprit." Through microscopic studies of the brains of those who have died, and through painstaking assessments of genetics, education, lifestyle, diet, personality differences, and even the number of dental fillings a sister has, the Nun Study has offered up important clues to a longer, healthier life.

Both leading-edge science and a practical plan for prevention, Aging with Grace shows that old age does not mean an inevitable slide into illness and disability; rather it can be a time of promise and productivity, intellectual and spiritual vigor.

A leading expert on Alzheimers disease, Snowdon has presented his findings at scientific conferences throughout North America and Europe and has been published in major medical journals such as The Journal of the American Medical Association and The Journal of Gerontology.

Half of Snowdon's proceeds from Aging with Grace will be donated to the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The Nun Study is funded primarily through grants from the National Institute on Aging.

Vikki Franklin, Chandler Medical Center Public Relations