Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It affects around 5.7 million people and this number is predicted to rise. Despite its growing prevalence, treatment options are lacking and there is no cure.
The exact causes are not yet known, so a great deal of research goes into understanding what factors increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. By recognizing the risk factors, it may be possible to significantly reduce the chances of getting Alzheimer’s.
To date, a number of these risk factors have been discovered. The most well-known is age; most people who develop Alzheimer’s are 65 or older. After the age of 85, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s is almost one third.
Genetic factors also play a role; a person’s risk increases if a family member has had the disease, and certain genes have been identified that are strongly linked to Alzheimer’s risk. Diet may also play a role, as might mental and physical activity.
What the new research says
In a recently published study, scientists conclude that excessive daytime sleepiness could predict the onset of Alzheimer’s in later life. According to the latest research, sleep might soon be added to the list. Published in the journal SLEEP, the new study was led by Adam P. Spira, Ph.D., who is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD.
Specifically, the researchers looked for a relationship between excessive daytime sleepiness and napping and the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Understanding the links between sleepiness and Alzheimer’s here could be important. “If disturbed sleep contributes to Alzheimer’s disease,” Spira explains, “we may be able to treat patients with sleep issues to avoid these negative.”
Assessing cause and effect will be challenging, as ever. As the study authors explain, “we cannot rule out that amyloid plaques that were present at the time of sleep assessment caused the sleepiness.” Do beta-amyloid plaques make a person tired, or does a lack of sleep enhance plaque formation?
Previous animal studies concluded that a reduction in night-time sleep appears to increase beta-amyloid buildup. Also, a handful of human studies have drawn lines between poor sleep and amyloid buildup. Though the recent study cannot provide conclusive evidence that a lack of sleep influences the development of Alzheimer’s, it adds to a growing body of evidence.
Soon, sleep may be considered another modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, which would be an important finding. There is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s disease, so we have to do our best to prevent it. Even if a cure is developed, prevention strategies should be emphasized,” Spira says.
More Facts on Alzheimer’s Disease
- The disease is the most common type of dementia.
- It happens when plaques containing beta amyloid form in the brain.
- As symptoms worsen, it becomes harder for people to remember recent events, to reason, and to recognize people they know.
- Eventually, a person with Alzheimer’s is likely to need full-time assistance.
- It is most likely when memory loss is a prominent symptom, especially in the area of learning and recalling new information.
- Language problems can also be a key early symptom, for example, struggling to find the right words.
- If visuospatial deficits are most prominent, these would include inability to recognize objects and faces, difficulty comprehending separate parts of a scene at once and difficulty with reading text, known as alexia.
- The most prominent deficits in executive dysfunction would be to do with reasoning, judgment, and problem-solving.
- In 2016, researchers published findings suggesting that a change in sense of humor might be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Recent research suggests that the features of Alzheimer’s, such as brain lesions, may already be present in midlife, even though symptoms of the disease do not appear until years later.
- Early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease can affect younger people with a family history of the disease, typically between the ages of 30 and 60 years.