An Idle Mind Is The Devil’s Workshop

Keeping your brain busy seems to keep the devil (Alzheimer’s and dementia) away, according to a study done on an order of nuns in Mankato, Minnesota. Could it be that simply occupying your mind can extend your life and ward off the evil spirits that take over older minds?

David Snowdon, a neurologist, has been studying the community of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), an order of nuns that have an average life of 85, with many more living beyond that, and do not suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease (the most popular form of dementia) or other brain debilitating diseases that seem to affect the general population. Snowdon is the director of “The Nun’s Study” on aging and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Snowdon followed a study at the University of Kentucky, where Drs. David Wekstein and William Markesbery were at the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging researching age-associated changes in cognitive function in a group of older adults who had agreed to donate their brains after death. The focus of the study was to understand how the brain was changed when presented with Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders as the subjects got older. At the time Snowdown was working with the researchers, but his research led him to Minnesota and the sisters there.

The lifestyle of the nuns made them the perfect case study for Snowdon’s research, and 678 members of the SSND in the U.S. participated in the Nun Study. In 1992, Snowdon began administering annual memory and cognitive tests to 678 nuns ranging in age from 75 to 102. This year 61 surviving members completed their exams. The nuns who have passed donated their brains to science research after their death.

Brain exercises are a normal way of life at the convent. The sisters live by the mantra that “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop” and the results seem to indicate this to be true — the devil being dementia in this case. They spend their time writing in journals, composing letters to Congress, doing puzzles and brain games of all sorts, and participate in current events seminars each week. They practice two key elements of brain exercise and memory retention — keeping your brain active and socialization.

A study of the brains of nuns who have passed on has helped researchers to understand that Alzheimer’s disease may be “due to tiny unnoticed strokes.” This leads researchers to conclude that Alzheimer’s may be stopped not by curing it, but by preventing what causes the strokes in the first place.

Snowdon’s book on the Nun study, Aging with Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives, won a Christopher Award in 2002

This article is our effort to continue bringing you information on studies and ways to avoid developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

From the desk of Ron White

Memory Training


Wikipedia – David Snowdon:

Attainment’s Mental Fitness Cards — Learning from the Nun’s Study

University of Minnesota — The Nun’s Study:


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