Whether it is worry, stress or an overactive mind, many seniors have trouble falling and staying soundly asleep. Besides feeling a little foggy the next morning, however, and feeling the need for a mid-day nap to catch up on lost sleep, the consequences have seemed minimal. That is, until research recently suggested a possible link between restless sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.
Deep sleep enables the brain to get rid of harmful toxins, along with the amyloid plaques connected to Alzheimer’s disease, and it looks like a build-up of these harmful toxins is shown to harm the brains of laboratory animals. Because of this, a human study is starting to better understand the connection between insomnia and dementia and the impact it could have on aging adults.
By making use of a powerful MRI system, the strength of the brain’s signal to get rid of toxins can be examined: a strong signal in brains whose toxin elimination is successful, and a weaker signal in people who might be developing Alzheimer’s. The goal will be to determine whether deficiencies in deep sleep does, actually, affect the odds of a future Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and if so, to determine the best treatment options to improve quality of sleep.
The difficulty in the human leg of this trial will be in aiding individuals feel comfortable enough in the MRI device to achieve the natural phases of sleep, between the noise and crowded and frequently claustrophobia-inducing quarters. However, it’s a lot more achievable and less-intrusive option than the laboratory animal study, which included creating a window in the skull and viewing the brain together with a strong microscope and laser. And the benefits may potentially be life-changing: identifying individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease due to insufficient sleep, and opening doors to fresh 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 already in place, and the research is scheduled to start this year.
Are you presently providing care for a senior loved one and finding it hard to get a restful night’s sleep? Or does your loved one battle with sundowning or other circumstances that make nighttime sleeping tough for both of you? Contact CareWorks Health Services in Orange County, CA, for overnight respite care, giving you the opportunity to sleep while knowing your loved one is protected and well cared for! Call us today at (949) 859-4700.