Alzheimer’s disease (AD), also referred simply as Alzheimer’s, is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and worsens over time. While we understand more about Alzheimer’s disease, a total cure is yet to be discovered as the disease is becoming more prevalent by the day.
Since it was discovered in 1906 by a neuropathologist, Dr Alois Alzheimer after carrying out an autopsy on the brain of a woman who died after exhibiting language problems, Dr Alzheimer discovered the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which are considered the hallmarks of the disease.”
Alzheimer’s disease, named after Dr Alzheimer, is the most common form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The term dementia describes memory loss and other cognitive problems that are serious enough to interfere with daily life.
It is important to note that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of the aging process, and while most with the disease are aged over 65, it can occur in younger people. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means that it gets worse over time and is the common cause of death in many parts of the world. Today, it is affecting adults more than any age.
A recent study however, suggests that a warning sign may come before any symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the study, “Adults who do not get enough deep sleep may be on their way to developing the disease.” Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, found that older people who experience less slow-wave sleep (in other words, deep sleep) have elevated levels of a brain protein called tau. The findings, published in Translational Medicine, note that higher levels of tau are a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Elevated levels have also previously been associated with both brain damage and cognitive decline.
In order to find out if there is a connection between a lack of deep sleep and the development of Alzheimer’s, the authors put together a study that involved 119 people aged 60 years or older. A full 80 percent of the participants had no cognition problems, and the rest had only mild impairment. To conduct the study, researchers monitored their sleep at home over the course of a week. They gave each participant a portable electroencephalogram, or EEG, monitor that measured brain waves as they slumbered. The participants also wore a watch-like sensor to help track body movement.
In addition, they kept sleep logs that included how much they slept at night and whether they napped during the day. Several scholars have raised that alarm over the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease in adult. According to Roy Steinberg, a care giver, “Increasing age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease. One in 10 individuals over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 are affected.”
The researchers also measured the amount of amyloid beta and tau in the brain and in the cerebrospinal fluid found around the brain and spinal cord. There were two ways to do this — 38 people underwent PET brain scans, and 104 people underwent spinal taps, with 27 people doing both. When they looked at the data collected, they found that those adults who experienced less slow-wave sleep had higher amounts of tau in the brain, and they also had a higher tau-to-amyloid ratio in their cerebrospinal fluid.
“The key is that it wasn’t the total amount of sleep that was linked to tau, it was the slow-wave sleep, which reflects quality of sleep,” noted first study author Dr. Brendan Lucey, director of the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center and an assistant professor of neurology.
“The people with increased tau pathology were actually sleeping more at night and napping more in the day, but they weren’t getting as good quality sleep,” he explained.
There is currently no cure for the disease, but there are treatments available for symptoms. These treatments can often slow the progression of the disease, which makes early diagnosis crucial, and this is why research such as the recent study is so important.
Of course, research into Alzheimer’s disease is ongoing, and Dr. Lucey admits that he does not expect sleep monitoring to replace traditional brain scans or cerebrospinal fluid analysis in regards to identifying early signs of Alzheimer’s.
Culled from Leadership