August 9, 2017

dementiaIt is a common problem for many older adults – falling and staying asleep for a full night’s rest. Apart from feeling a tiny bit foggy the next morning, however, as well as feeling the need for a mid-day snooze to catch up on lost sleep, the actual effects have appeared to be marginal. That is, until a recent study indicated a possible link between restless sleep and dementia.

Deep sleep enables the brain to get rid of harmful toxins, along with the amyloid plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and it appears that a build-up of these toxins is shown to damage the brains of lab animals. Consequently, a human study is launching to better understand the correlation and its impact.

With the use of a powerful MRI system, the strength of the brain’s signal to take out toxins can be reviewed: a strong signal in brains whose toxin elimination is effective, and a less strong signal in those who might be developing Alzheimer’s. The objective will be to determine whether a lack of deep sleep does, actually, affect the chance of a future Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and if that’s the case, to ascertain the best treatment methods to enhance sleep quality.

The difficulty in the human leg of the trial will be in aiding people to feel comfortable enough in the MRI machine to achieve the natural stages of sleep, between the noise and confined and frequently claustrophobia-inducing quarters. Even so, it’s a lot more feasible and less-intrusive option than the lab animal study, which involved making a window in the skull and viewing the brain together with a powerful microscope and laser. And the payoffs may potentially be life-changing: identifying individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease as a result of insufficient sleep, and opening doors to brand-new treatment plans.

Per Bill Rooney, director of Oregon Health & Science University’s Advanced Imaging Research Center, “It could be anything from having people exercise more regularly, or new drugs. A lot of the sleep aids don’t particularly focus on driving people to deep sleep stages.”

Funding for human trials is now in place, and the study is slated to start this year.

Have you been delivering care for a senior loved one and finding it hard to get a good night’s sleep? Or does your loved one battle with sundowning and other dementia symptoms that make evening sleeping tough for you both? Contact Continuum’s St. Louis family home care services for overnight respite care, giving you the chance to sleep while knowing your loved one is safe and well cared for!