alzheimer'sStudy: Sleep Loss Could Indicate Early Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

by Stuart Mapes

Disrupted sleep could mean a number of things, and recently scientists have found a connection between sleep loss and Alzheimer’s. Preclinical Alzheimer’s patients may not notice any cognitive symptoms at first, and the progression to full-blown Alzheimer’s is often gradual. Sleep loss, however, is one of the earliest indicators of Alzheimer’s.

A Washington University study found that people between the ages of 45 and 75 who have preclinical Alzheimer’s showed more inefficient sleep patterns. These subjects had not yet developed the trademark symptoms of Alzheimer’s, memory loss and cognitive impairment, but tests on their brains indicated early stages of Alzheimer’s. During the study, these subjects stayed in bed just as long as those not exhibiting Alzheimer’s, but they spent less of that time actually asleep. They also took more naps during the day. Yo-El Ju, assistant professor of neurology at Washington University, reports that the patients with the poorest sleep efficiency were five times more likely to have preclinical Alzheimer’s than those that slept better.

The study suggests that a noticeable but unexplainable change in sleep patterns could be a warning sign, even if the patient has not noticed any memory loss or cognitive difficulties. Of course seniors should consult their doctor about any sleep irregularities, but now when a senior reports sleep loss, it may be a good time to bring up Alzheimer’s.

The link between sleep habits and cognitive function may go the other way as well. Other research suggests that little sleep may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. If a senior has had chronic sleep loss or chosen poor sleeping habits, he or she may be more at risk. Not only could the lack of sleep lead to cognitive impairment and clinical Alzheimer’s, but the senior’s sleeping patterns may become even more irregular.

Seniors and their caregivers should pay attention to sleep patterns, as nighttime sleep loss and daytime napping could be causes or signs of Alzheimer’s.

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