Sleep Problems Tied To Increased Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease

Sharp focus on Alzheimer's may help target drugs

Alzheimer's, the most common neurodegenerative diseases, is characterised by the existence of two types of abnormal "amyloid" forms of protein which form lesions in the brain. The participants answered questions about their sleep quality, and also provided samples of spinal fluid.

People who sleep badly could be at a greater risk of Alzheimer's later in life, new research has suggested.

This build-up is known to cause toxic clumps in the brain, which are believed to be the signature hallmark of the disease.

A drug meant to target harmful proteins in the brain works a bit like a key in a lock.

The study recruited 101 people with an average age of 63 who had normal thinking and memory skills but who were considered at risk of developing Alzheimer's.

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'For example, disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque buildup because the brain's clearance system kicks into action during sleep. The findings showed that poor sleep quality, sleep issues, and daytime sleepiness were associated with increased indicators in the spinal fluid.

They either had a parent with the disease or were a carrier of a gene that increases the risk for Alzheimers disease called apolipoprotein E or APOE.

"Not everyone with sleep problems is destined to develop Alzheimer's disease", said the senior author, Barbara B. Bendlin, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Tangles are created by damaged tau, a protein responsible for cell stability and structure.

"We found relationships between sleep and levels of proteins related to Alzheimer's disease, but the proteins that we were measuring haven't yet been shown to predict future dementia when measured in cognitively healthy people", Bendlin said.

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She added that doctors should encourage adults to improve the quality of their sleep to reduce the number of Alzheimer's sufferers in the future.

'Sleep may be a modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer's disease during the earliest stages of the disease, before dementia symptoms appear'.

Bendlin said it's important to identify modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer's because delaying Alzheimer's disease in people by as little as five years could reduce the number of cases in the next 30 years by almost 6 million and save $367 billion in health care costs. "Amyloid structures can form in many different ways, so it has been unclear how close these lab versions resembled those in human disease", commented Scheres.

Finding out what causes Alzheimer's could be critical to stopping the disease as early as possible, before irreversible damage has been done.

He added: "It is important to remember that it was a small study that relied on people reporting their own sleep quality, which is not the most accurate measurement". As the mice slept, their brains actually changed shape, expanding to allow them to better flush out these toxins that had built up during the day, The Huffington Post reported.

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