Dementia is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and the fifth leading cause in those individuals 65 and older. Almost 15 percent of Americans aged 71 and older have Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. Now, according to researchers in Boston, there may be a primary marker to indicate whether or not an individual is at a higher risk for dementia within the next ten years of their life.
The study, performed at Boston University Medical center on 2,400 test subjects, says the marker can predict whether or not someone is heavily at risk for dementia within a decade. That marker? Oversleeping.
Scientists in Boston conducted a 10-year dementia study, noting how long each test subject slept every night. Their conclusions concerning dementia were groundbreaking. Those individuals that slept more than nine hours per night were at much greater risk – 50 percent more – of getting dementia. The conclusions are huge in that the researchers now hope to be better able to identify dementia in its far earlier stages when the disease is more treatable.
The findings of this groundbreaking dementia study were recently published in the journal Neurology.
So, if you regularly sleep for longer than nine hours per night should you be freaking out about getting dementia? Researchers say no. In fact, if you have normally slept for longer than nine hours for more than 13 years, the dementia risk is not heightened. However, if you’ve recently started sleeping for more than nine hours per night… then the report is speaking to you.
What is the logic behind all of this? It could be several things. Researchers discovered that those who recently started to sleep more than nine hours have smaller brain volumes. They also reasoned that the onset of dementia itself could make an individual more tired.
So, the sudden tendency to sleep for longer than nine hours per night is an early indicator of dementia, can something simple, like setting an alarm clock, decrease that risk? Unfortunately, as Dr. Matthew P. Pase, a Sidney Sax NHMRC Fellow in the Department of Neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine, and one of the authors of the study, explains, that’s not the case.
“Our findings suggest that long sleep duration may sometimes result from brain changes that occur early in dementia, with changes in sleep detected before dementia diagnosis. In other words, excessive sleep may sometimes be a marker but not a cause of early dementia. Therefore, interventions to restrict sleep duration are unlikely to reduce the risk of dementia.”
Dr. Pase explained that sleep disturbances are actually quite common in cases of dementia. However, up until now the study of the relationship between sleep and those with dementia were only conducted after the fact. This study is the first long-range research into sleep patterns before the onset of dementia, making it unique.
Sleep studies with respect to dementia are extremely important and Dr. Pase hopes to continue and expand his research.
“Different aspects of sleep may serve different functions in the brain. Future research is needed to examine whether there are any specific aspects of sleep that become abnormal before dementia onset. Our team is currently examining this question using more detailed overnight sleep studies known as polysomnography.”
Dementia is either progressive or chronic and is caused by a number of individual brain illnesses. These illnesses can affect behavior, thinking, and memory. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia. Dementia is not only devastating to those that acquire it, but it is also traumatic and trying on their families and caregivers. Hopefully, this study will be yet one more step on the way to, if not curing it, then finding new ways to diagnose and treat dementia.
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