Copenhagen will be the location of a six-day Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. One of the top subjects that the professionals in attendance will address is the role of sleep disturbance on the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. The conference’s goal is to evaluate the various studies and outcomes that have been conducted into keeping the brain healthy and either preventing or staving off the cognitive disorder. Experts say that with the population aging rapidly, Alzheimer’s is of increasing concern. The disease currently afflicts five million Americans, but that number is expected to rise to 16 million by the middle of the century. With that in mind, the United States and several other of the world’s developed countries have pledged to provide improved Alzheimer’s treatment by the year 2025.
The information regarding the role of sleep on the incidence of Alzheimer’s comes from a study conducted at the University of California at San Francisco. Researchers there had the opportunity to work with a large sample of participants – over 200,000 veterans of the United States military – to determine the impact of sleep disorders on cognitive health. The group was made up largely of men over the age of 55. According to Kristine Yaffe, a psychiatry professor at UCSF who is the head of the Dementia Epidemiology Research Group, “I would say that this is another important study showing this link between sleep and subsequent diagnosis of dementia. This is the first investigation into the link between sleep disturbance and dementia in a large cohort of older, mostly male veterans. Further research is needed to clarify the role of sleep disturbance as either a risk factor for, or an early symptom of, dementia among veterans, and in other populations as well.”
The group’s results showed that in those veterans who had been diagnosed with sleep disorders such as apnea or insomnia there was a thirty percent increased chance of later being diagnosed with dementia. For those who had the added factor of having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that increased risk grew to eighty percent.
According to Yaffe, the study is confirmation of some of what has been previously documented, particularly the fact that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s also suffer from sleep problems, but what is still not known is whether the sleep disturbance has a causative or heightening effect or whether it is simply a symptom of the disease. Previous research done at Temple University in Philadelphia has shown that chronic sleep disruptions can be a precursor to the development of the disease, and hassled to questions about whether addressing sleep problems early on could be a “viable therapeutic strategy” for the prevention of or slowing the progression of the disease.