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Published on December 10, 2013

Sleep Lowers Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Medical science has made phenomenal strides, but there are still plenty of mysteries when it comes to health and illness. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is one particular condition that we still don’t know too much about. Why does it occur? What can be done to treat it? The questions are endless.

A new study, however, offers clues that could ultimately lead to solving the mystery. It focuses on sleep. Or rather, a lack of it. Researchers showed a connection between poor sleep and brain plaques that are present in Alzheimer’s patients. According to researchers, older adults who don’t get enough quality sleep during the night may have more brain plaques, which is a signature sign of Alzheimer’s disease that consists of beta-amyloids.

However, the connection is similar to the common “chicken or egg” debate; doctors aren’t sure if sleep deprivation causes plaque buildup, or if it’s the other way around. “The study only confirmed what we frequently see in the clinic; that lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s are commonly seen together,” says Igor Dorokhine, M.D., a geriatrician at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “The brain needs sleep for good functioning, so a lack of sleep is a stressor to the brain that may lead to inflammation and potentially cause brain damage.”

Research previously conducted on animals has actually shown this connection can go both ways; sleep loss can lead to an increased buildup of beta amyloid and beta amyloid can make it more difficult to sleep. While previous studies have also shown that those with the disease have poor sleep patterns, the latest study suggests it may be possible that poor sleep can lead to cognitive decline.

Although the exact cause remains unknown, researchers are hopeful that the link between the two may potentially reveal a risk factor that can help people prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, which is diagnosed in those who experience memory loss and a decline of other cognitive abilities. The sixth leading cause of death in America, Alzheimer’s occurs most often in those who are 65 and older, but can begin appearing in those in their 40s or 50s. Although there is no current cure and no known cause, those with the disease can receive treatment to help delay the progression and symptoms of Alzheimer’s to improve their quality of life.

“It’s also important to know that the only factor known to decrease the risk or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s is a healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Dorokhine says.

As a result, Dr. Dorokhine recommends the following to help lower your risk of developing the disease:

  • Get plenty of regular exercise. Those with Alzheimer’s can benefit from a 30-minute exercise regimen, such as walking or using a stationary bike, which can help improve your mood, physical health, and sleep. It may also help prevent cognitive decline associated with the disease. 
  • Follow a nutritional, balanced diet. Since some with Alzheimer’s might forget to eat or prepare healthy meals, it’s important that they receive high-calorie, healthy shakes and smoothies, which can also be supplemented with protein powders. Water and juice are also good to ensure they’re well hydrated. Sticking with a low-fat diet that’s rich in fruits and veggies (like the Mediterranean Diet) may also help protect your mental health. 
  • Engage in social and intellectually stimulating activities. This will not only improve your overall quality of life, but may also help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s as you keep your brain active.

For more information, visit Crozer-Keystone’s website at http://sleepcenters.crozerkeystone.org. Crozer-Keystone offers a multidisciplinary approach to the identification and treatment of all types of adult and pediatric sleep disorders. To make an appointment, visit our website or call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703).

If you suspect Alzheimer’s disease in a friend or family member, contact the clinicians of the Comprehensive Memory Program at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, at (610) 499-7180. Our specialists are trained to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with memory concerns  or dementias.

 

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