Can sleep disturbances increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's disease is a life-changing illness. It usually starts after the age of 50 (more commonly after the age of 75) and it can get worse fairly quickly. It is characterized by memory loss, changes in behavior, mood swings, and a loss of ability to independently care for oneself. Alzheimer's disease appears to be equally challenging or even more challenging, for caregivers and loved ones to bear than it is for the person afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. So far, there is no explanation for why some people develop Alzheimer’s disease, but what they all have in common is that it is devastating for the caregivers and loved ones and that caring for a person who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease is more than a full-time job.
Predicting Alzheimer's disease
Given the major life changes that result from Alzheimer’s disease, the medical community has been searching for predictors and early signs of Alzheimer's disease for years. There are some medications that may slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease, but they do not reverse the illness. The availability of these medications makes it worthwhile to be able to identify early signs of Alzheimer's disease while it may still be possible to prevent the illness from rapidly worsening. And, even from a practical standpoint, if a person could anticipate that he or she is developing Alzheimer’s disease in advance, he or she can begin making plans to live in an environment that can provide care for Alzheimer’s disease ahead of time.
Sleep disturbances and Alzheimer's disease
Sleep disturbances, interestingly, are among those early signs of Alzheimer's disease. Overall, sleep problems have been found to be more common among people who have Alzheimer's disease than they are in the rest of the population. There are many different kinds of sleep disturbances and sleep disorders, but not all of the different types of sleep disturbances are associated with Alzheimer's disease.
A sleep problem called a circadian rhythm disturbance is the specific type of sleep problem that is most frequent among people who have Alzheimer's disease. In fact, new research shows that circadian rhythm disturbances are a common problem in the years prior to the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Even more surprisingly, people who have circadian rhythm disturbances are more likely to develop more severe Alzheimer's disease characterized by significant behavioral problems, such as lack of inhibition, inappropriate behavior, and extreme mood fluctuations.
Next: What are circadian rhythm abnormalities?