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Aging happens to everyone. Externally, the skin wrinkles and hair turns gray and eventually white. Internally, aging affects the organs and slows down digestion and mental processing. One question that has recently been addressed in the psychological literature is how the nutrition, activities, and lifestyle from younger adult years affect women’s bodies in the elderly years. This week you explore the results from Snowdon’s (2002) Nun Study, in which he examined the unique health characteristics of nuns who lived in a controlled convent environment, eating the same food, having the same access to health care, and having a similar lifestyle for most of their lives. Consider the psychological differences between these women and women who have lived more mainstream lives, and how these differences affect health outcomes for each group.

With these thoughts in mind: Post by Day 4 a comparison (similarities and differences) of the health issues of women who are not nuns, with those health issues of women who are nuns. Describe the two most important psychological differences between each group. Then explain how each difference may have affected the physical health outcomes of each respective group. Explain your answers. Use the Learning Resources and other current literature to support your response. Cite your references using APA format.

Reply 1.

The number of people age 65 and older in the U.S. has increased since 2014 to 47.8 million with a predicted growth to 98.2 million by 2060 representing approximately 15% of the population with women accounting for the majority of the percentage (US Census Bureau, 2017). Since women live longer than men, it is necessary to address the different health issues faced by women during their later stages in life (Ginter & Simko, 2013). Health characteristics of older women should not be explained as a singular experience due to socioeconomic and ethnic differences which make them more vulnerable to health disparities in comparison to their counterparts. Because women make up the majority of the older population they also consume a larger portion of health care services than men (Meredith, Frawley, & Adams, 2018; Torrez, 2001). Although men and women are both affected by cardiovascular diseases, heart disease or cancer, it is necessary to address the specific health issues that additionally affect women at higher rates than men. Women are more likely to be affected by chronic conditions that can cause limitations in their lifestyles such as dementia and depression in addition to struggling with conditions such as incontinence, sexual problems and problematic sleeping patterns (Harkins, Elliott, & Wan, 2006; Malatesta, 2007; Phelan, Love, Ryff, Brown & Heidrich, 2010).

To explore the unique characteristics of a specific older female population, David Snowden (2001), conducted a longitudinal study focusing on aging and Alzheimer disease among 678 Catholic sisters ages 75 to 107 years of age which began in 1986. The researcher’s findings were published in a memoir which discussed the impact of linguistic abilities as a predictor of neurocognitive disorders. As discussed previously, research focusing on health concerns among the elderly are not necessarily viewed as a homogeneous population, yet Snowden hypothesized about the benefits of employing this specific population in order to decrease possible external variables that the nuns would have potentially not been exposed to earlier in life such as smoking, drinking, or risky health behaviors in general (Snowden, 2003). Many findings from this study documented the differences between older women who are nuns and older women who are not nuns. Snowden (2003) suggested that the degree of pathology present in the brain as well as the resistance to the clinical expression of the neuropathology. This resistance is influenced by earlier lifestyle characteristics not found among older women who are nuns. This was evidenced by Butler and Snowden (1996) who examined trends in mortality among older women from the Nun study cohort. Data analyzed indicated that the nuns had lower mortality rates than did the general population most likely due to the consistency of lifestyle among the group.

Two of the most important psychological differences between the groups include positive emotions and cognitive abilities. One of the main focuses of the Nun Study addressed how positive emotions expressed through handwritten autobiographies were assessed for cognitive depth. Danner, Snowdon, and Friesen (2001) further examined longevity through a cognitive and positive emotion lens. Regression analyses indicated a very strong association between positive emotional content in the autobiographies and longevity which is usually influenced by external psychosocial factors.

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