Religious Retirement Office
Vol. 14, No. 1
The Nun Study: Serving God's People in Life, Death and Beyond
The story is everywhere. From the cover of Time magazine to The New York Times to NBC's Today Show, the Nun Study is big news. And rightly so as findings from this unprecedented study are helping to unlock the mysteries of Alzheimer's, a disease that could strike as many as 14 million Americans by 2050.
The Nun Study is a longitudinal research study of over 600 School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) aimed at identifying both the causes of and ways to prevent Alzheimer's and other brain diseases. In May 2001, preliminary findings from this study were published in Aging With Grace: What the Nun Study Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives (Bantam). The book was written by David Snowdon, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. While Dr. Snowdon's work will probably not lead to a cure for Alzheimer's, it is contributing to advances in prevention that may teach us how to escape the worst effects of this ravaging disease.
The study began in 1986 at a convent in Mankato, Minnesota. By 1990, it had expanded to include 678 SSNDs from across the United States. The nuns ranged in age from 75 to103 when the study began, and over eighty-five percent of the participants were school teachers. In joining the study, the sisters agreed to annual assessments of their cognitive and physical functions, medical exams, and blood drawing for genetic and nutritional analysis. More remarkable still, participants also agreed to donate their brains after death for neuropathologic study.
The SSNDs are not the only religious involved with research on aging, however. Since 1994, scientists at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago have been studying hundreds of priests, nuns and brothers, age 65 and older. Participants in what has become known as the Religious Orders Study come from some forty religious congregations around the country and are followed for an average of 4.5 years. Like the SSNDs, religious in this study submit to a battery of questions about their personal histories as well as annual memory tests and physical exams. All members of the Religious Orders Study have also agreed to donate their brains for autopsy once they die.
Both research projects are ongoing, but the information acquired thus far is helping scientists develop recommendations that may aid in the prevention of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia. A primary finding has been the necessity of engaging in ongoing mental activity, from reading books to visiting museums, as means of avoiding memory loss. Other lifestyle factors that are important in staving off Alzheimer's include maintaining close relationships with family and friends and having a positive mental state.
Scientists find many benefits in studying members of religious orders. For example, religious usually have relatively uniform backgrounds in terms of education, living conditions, economic status and access to healthcare. Few variations in lifestyle mean there is less chance of confounding the data. The real benefit, however, lies in the willingness of the participants to contribute to the greater good. Individuals in both studies undergo comprehensive medical and personal observation. Despite the intrusion into their personal and medical histories, not to mention the considerable time commitment, religious remain dedicated to the success of the research. The gift these selfless individuals have given is immeasurable. Gener-ations to come will benefit from men and women who once again said "yes" to God's call to service.
To learn more about the Nun Study, visit www.nunstudy.org or www.ssnd.org .
Please send changes in congregational leadership, as well as in addresses, phone or e-mail, to NRRO c/o Jean Smith so that we can keep our records and mailing lists up to date.
From the Director
It is so wonderful to open my mail. Some may find this surprising. After all, the statistics concerning retired religious can be daunting. The national unfunded retirement liability, for example, is roughly 6.4 billion, and there are more than 40,000 religious men and women over the age of seventy in the United States today. There is certainly much to be done. Yet my mail tells a different story. My mail tells the story of the progress we are making in creating secure futures for our nation's retired and elderly religious. I receive many letters from religious communities who have benefitted from the contributions of our faithful donors. Their letters are touching, and they often reflect how wonderful it is to know that their lives of service and giving are so appreciated. Other letters tell of how the contributions have assisted in caring for their retired members. Even when these letters request help, I am still encouraged because through the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR) we have been able to create grant programs to assist with a variety of retirement challenges.
Perhaps even more gratifying are the stories told by Sister Janice Bader, CPPS, our staff member who identifies and visits religious institutes in need. Her mission is to find every religious congregation, no matter how small, so that not one is left behind in being helped to support their elderly. Over the last year alone, Sister Janice's work has resulted in forty-seven additional religious congregations who will receive contributions from the national appeal. Sister Janice also helps religious institutes assess their needs and begin planning for the future. Again, sometimes the situation is difficult, but through the RFR, we are able to work through complex issues and help put religious communities on the path to security.
Of course, the RFR is able to make a difference because of the profound impact religious have had on the lives of countless men and women across the country. The other story my mail tells is the gratitude our donors feel towards the religious who have influenced their lives. Their letters, many of which request prayers for a special need or concern, are also a testament to the ongoing contribution religious make to Church life through their ministry of prayer. Of course, all prayer requests are faithfully honored by our retired sisters, brothers and religious order priests.
Please keep our work in your prayers so that we may truly reach out to all.
Sister Andrιe Fries, CPPS
Do you need help with retirement planning for your institute? Contact Sister Janice Bader, CPPS, Project Director of Retirement Planning Services, at (202)541-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SENIOR MOMENTS. . . . Tips and Tidbits for Addressing Retirement Challenges
Sister Janice Bader, CPPS
- For information on health insurance in your state, visit www.healthinsuranceinfo.net a website maintained by the Georgetown University Institute for Health Care Research and Policy. (AARP Bulletin, February 2002, Vol. 43, No. 2, Page 11)
- If you can't afford prescription drugs, you may qualify for help from pharmaceutical manufacturers. For more information, call (800) 762-4636. (AARP Bulletin, February 2002, Vol. 43, No. 2, Page 11)
- Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. is offering its own prescription drugs to uninsured low-income Medicare beneficiaries for a flat fee of $15 for each 30-day supply. Any beneficiary who has no other drug insurance and whose gross income is less than $18,000 a year may be eligible. For application forms and more information, go to www.pfizerforliving.com. Or call (800) 717-6005 (AARP Bulletin, February 2002, Vol. 43, No. 2, Page 4)
- The MetLife Mature Market Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving offer Resources for Caregivers, 2001 Edition. This 42-page guide lists Internet sites, social service agencies, associations, books, guides and audio and videotapes. It also includes information on topics such as Alzheimer's disease and general advice, including financial, legal and government resources. For information write MetLife Mature Market Institute, 57 Greens Farms Road, Westport, Conn. Or call (203) 221-6580. (Aging News Alert, No. 2001-18, September 24, 2001, Page 9)
- Materials for staff training and development for those who care for older adults are available through www.healthpropress.com; or, request a catalog of publications by phone at (888) 337-8808 or email at Custserv@healthpropress.com
- "Turmoil in the long-term care insurance (LTCI) market during 2001 prompted A.M. Best, a financial analysis firm that issues ratings of the insurance industry, to publish an editorial questioning the future of LTCI. . . . The A.M. Best analysts sum up the main conundrum facing writers of LTCI: Many carriers are starting to meet resistance from state regulators when trying to implement significant rate increases necessary to compensate for many years of underpricing. Because this market primarily deals with senior citizens, many on fixed incomes, any large increases will be met with significant opposition. . . . A.M. Best believes that larger established players, who may not be fully committed to this business or comfortable with its future, also may exit the market.'" For the full text of the article, visit www.ambest.com. (Aging Today, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, January-February 2002, Page 2.)
Resource on Reconfiguration
STANDING AT THE CROSSROADS: Religious Orders and Reconfiguration by Jeanne Schweickert, SSSF offers insights about religious orders' experience of reconfiguration. It tells the stories of six communities who chose the path of reconfiguration in different ways. It reflects on the spiritual and psychological challenges of standing at the crossroads. It shares how facilitators can companion those on this journey and it presents frequently asked questions about the topic. If you are looking for a practical discussion of reconfiguration this book is for you. Order from CONVERGENCE, Inc 3545 N. Nora, Chicago, IL 60634; e-mail email@example.com; phone 773-622-7529; fax 773-622-1559. Before March 30, $18; after March 30, $22 plus postage.
3211 Fourth Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
Project Director for Retirement Services
|National Vicars for Religious
Conference, Scottsdale, AZ
|March 14-17, 2002|
|Basic Grant application due||March 29, 2002|
|Special Assistance Grant applications due||March 30, 2002|
|Legal Seminar, Greensboro, NC||April 4-7, 2002|
|LCWR New Leader Workshop, Mundelein, IL||April 11-14, 2002|
|USCCB Spring General Meeting, Dallas, TX||June 13-15, 2002|
|Basic, SING & Special Assistance
|June 15, 2002|
|CMSM Assembly, Philadelphia, PA||August 7-10, 2002|
|LWCR Assembly, St. Louis, MO||August 17-21, 2002|
|CMSWR Conference, Belleville, IL||September 19-22, 2002|
|Supplemental Grants awarded||November 2002|
|NATRI Conference, Tampa, FL||November 20-23, 2002|
|RFR National Collection||December 7-8, 2002|