A lot has been written about all the benefits of a good night’s sleep and sleep has even been shown to be a powerful anti-oxidant that protects the brain. What about a daytime nap? In some countries an afternoon nap is part of the culture. While taking a nap may be OK, too much drowsiness during the day among seniors may not be good according to a recent study. In fact, the study published September 25, 2018 in the Sleep Journal discovered that seniors who claimed to be feeling too sleepy during the day when they wanted to be awake were found to have a 3x increased risk for beta amyloid in their brains and this may be a prelude to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
MRI and PET Scans
Participants in the study were 123 cognitively healthy seniors. The researchers used sophisticated screening that showed that those who complained about feeling excessively drowsy during the day had some buildup of beta amyloid in their brains. In fact, the researchers suggest that doctors should question their patients about their sleep habits and about feeling excessively tired during day time hours as a part of routine exams. Doctors could then send people for further testing to see if there was a connection between feeling drowsy during day time hours with beta amyloid in their brains. Perhaps, this could be a way to screen for early Alzheimer’s before real symptoms set in? Once there are symptoms there has already been brain damage and there is a search on to find signs of pre-clinical Alzheimer’s in people in time to use some kind of intervention to prevent the full decline to dementia.
Research with animals also has shown that when their sleep was disturbed, amyloid began to build up in their brains.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common neurodegenerative disease and most common dementia in the United States. It begins with a pre-clinical stage without any symptoms and researchers believe this silent phase begins about 10 years before symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline set in. It has been listed as the 6th cause of death in the United States although according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) it may really be the third cause of death, as many cases are not reported and it may not be listed as the cause of death. It is estimated that over five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. It leads to very severe memory loss, personality changes, psychiatric behavior disorders and sleep disturbances. The demented person can reach a point where they can no longer function or take care of themselves. Some tend to wander off and cannot always find their way home. Alzheimer’s disease was first discovered in 1901 by a German doctor, Alois Alzheimer who had an unusual patient in an asylum named Auguste Deter who had severe memory loss. When he asked her questions about her husband, children she replied that she had forgotten herself and did not remember who she was or if she had a husband or children.
Emotional and Economic Burden
Alzheimer’s disease puts a tremendous emotional and economic burden on the families of those seniors suffering from dementia. Many of them are being care for by voluntary caregivers who are often family members. Many are being cared for by aging spouses who also have their own health problems.
Research and Funding
A lot of money has been poured into funding research and scientists all over the world are at work trying to find a cause, a cure, a vaccine or other way of preventing it. So far the only conclusions they have reached are that it may be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
MCI and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Other studies have shown that people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have a high rate of obstructive sleep apnea. Researchers theorize that the constant shut-offs of oxygen to the brain due to periodic cessation of breathing may damage the brain, which can lead to dementia. Others feel that the dementia in its early stages may be causing sleep disturbances.
Viruses and Anemia can also Cause Daytime Sleepiness
There are herpes viruses like Epstein Barr which may lead to chronic fatigue and sleepiness that is called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). No one seems to know for certain if Epstein-Bar causes CFS, but to date no other cause has yet been found. Recent studies have also found a high association with herpes viruses in post-mortem samples of people who died of Alzheimer’s. More research is needed, but there is a clinical human trial going on that is giving anti-viral drugs to people with early Alzheimer’s in the hope that this will prevent further cognitive decline. Also, anemia leads to drowsiness and fatigue.
If your loved one with dementia is in need of being in a warm, protective and safe place where they will not be able to wander off and get lost, then choose a skilled rehab and nursing facility that has a special memory care unit.
The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York has an outstanding memory care unit. Also, Van Duyn has wonderful therapeutic recreational programs.
If you or your loved one are feeling too tired and drowsy during daytime hours then discuss this with your doctor.