Tossing and turning, overthinking and worrying are all too common in older adults who struggle with falling – and staying – asleep. Other than feeling a bit foggy the next morning, however, and feeling the need for an afternoon nap to catch up on lost sleep, the repercussions have seemed minimal. That is, until a recent study indicated a potential link between restless sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.
Deep sleep allows the brain to remove toxins, including the amyloid plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and it appears that a build-up of these toxins is shown to cause damage to the brains of laboratory animals. As a result, a human study is launching to better understand the connection and its impact.
Through the use of a powerful MRI system, the strength of the brain’s signal to remove toxins can be analyzed: a strong signal in brains whose toxin removal is effective, and a weaker one in those who may be developing Alzheimer’s. The goal will be to determine if a lack of deep sleep does, in fact, affect the likelihood of a future Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and if so, to determine the best treatment methods to improve quality of sleep.
The challenge in the human leg of this trial will be in helping participants feel comfortable enough in the MRI machine to experience the natural stages of sleep, between the noise and cramped and sometimes claustrophobia-inducing quarters. However, it’s a much more feasible and less-intrusive option than the laboratory animal study, which involved creating a window in the skull and viewing the brain with a powerful microscope and laser. And the payoffs could potentially be life-changing: identifying those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease as a result of insufficient sleep, and opening doors to new treatment options.
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 begin this year.
Are you providing care for a senior loved one and finding it hard to get a restful night’s sleep? Or does your loved one struggle with sundowning or other issues that make nighttime sleeping difficult for both of you? Contact North River Home Care for overnight respite care, allowing you the opportunity to sleep while knowing your loved one is safe and well cared for!