New research suggests sleep disorders may increase dementia risk
Nearly everyone has experienced a sleepless night or two, accompanied by the fuzzy head and lack of concentration the next day. New research shows, however, that those restless nights, compounded by sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, may be raising your long-term risk of developing dementia, as well.
The research, released this week by physicians at the University of California at San Francisco, studied the sleep disturbances of 200,000 military veterans ages 55 and older, examining their medical records from an eight-year period. According to the findings, after accounting for gender, income, education and health, the veterans who had a diagnosis of a sleep disorder had a 30 percent greater risk of dementia than those without sleep issues.
“This is the first investigation into the link between sleep disturbance and dementia in a large cohort of older, mostly male veterans,” says Dr. Kristine Yaffe, one of the authors of the study. “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.”
These findings, reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen, continue the effort to find the causes for dementia. The rate of dementia has been declining in recent years—by as much as 25 percent for seniors—due to a healthier senior population, though there is still no cure.
According to the researchers, the findings support previous research in sleep and its importance to memory and mental health.
“It is thought that sleep may play a role in changes in the brain related to aging and dementia, and sleep abnormalities may affect us in more ways than we fully understand,” says Dr. Raina Gupta, neurologist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “This is further recognition of the importance of sleep to the human mind and body. Sleep abnormalities have also been found to be risk factors for hypertension, diabetes, stroke and heart attack.”
Dr. Gupta agrees that more research is needed in the general population to be certain these findings can be widely applied. “But this is an important first step.”
She encourages anyone who may be experiencing changes in memory to speak with their physician to evaluate the need for a neurologic or sleep medicine evaluation.
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