Researchers have failed to make significant progress towards curing or even treating Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. At the same time, new cases are steadily increasing. Around the world, some 50 million people suffer from dementia, with 10 million new cases diagnosed every year. Without new treatment options, the world will soon face a health crisis as it’s forced to care for so many needy patients. However, new research is offering previously unknown insight into possible causes of the disease, while revealing simple steps we can take now to help stave off the disease later in life.
Sleep’s Impact on Dementia
New research from The University of California, Berkley found that people who report declining sleep quality during their 50’s and 60’s have more protein tangles in their brains, putting them at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. ‘“Insufficient sleep across the lifespan is significantly predictive of your development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Walker, a sleep researcher and professor of psychology.’
These proteins — known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles — are the pathological indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, researchers have placed them at the center of their prevention and treatment research. But so far, scientists have been unable to unlock how these excess proteins develop, or come up with strategies to treat or prevent them.
The same Berkley study also found “that people with high levels of tau protein in the brain were more likely to lack the synchronized brain waves that are associated with a good night’s sleep.”
These synchronized brain waves are so important, because scientists believe they’re the process by which the brain transfers memories to its long-term storage banks. “It is increasingly clear that sleep disruption is an underappreciated factor contributing to Alzheimer’s disease risk and the decline in memory associated with Alzheimer’s,” Walker said.
Researchers believe these findings could help identify possible biomarkers for later dementia risk.
Proteins Not Working Alone
While doctors recognize the connection between excess brain protein and Alzheimer’s disease, they’re still unsure if these proteins are responsible. In fact, a recent LA Times article written by Gary Rosenberg — physician and director of the University of New Mexico’s Memory and Aging Center — points to a more than 20-year old study that’s getting new attention.
In 1997, David Snowdon and his colleagues at the University of Kentucky recruited 678 members of the Roman Catholic School Sisters of Notre Dame to participate in a long-term dementia study. Over the years, examinations of these sister’s brains have shown a few different results. Some brains showed an increase in amyloid protein, some showed signs of vascular disease, and others showed both. Snowdon’s research found that sisters whose brains showed both increased amyloid and vascular disease were far likelier to have lost cognitive function while alive.
Other recent autopsy research conducted by the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center support Snowden’s findings. The results demonstrate “that many patients who displayed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease while alive had accumulations of amyloid as well as other markers of brain disease. A large percentage of those patients had cerebrovascular — or stroke-related — changes in their brains along with the amyloid. The autopsies showed that patients with more cognitive impairment in life were more likely to have both amyloid and cerebrovascular brain damage.”
So what do these two studies reveal? Simple self-care may be the most important step in preventing dementia.
Exercise and Get Plenty of Sleep
These new findings show that lowering vascular risk factors like high blood pressure is an important step for avoiding Alzheimer’s disease. Older patients with sleep problems would also be wise to treat their sleep apnea or learn how to improve their sleep hygiene. As these new studies reveal, eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep can help our bodies in more ways than we ever could have imagined.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier and independent life.
We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasize a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.