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Poor sleep in later life linked to dementia

12 December 2014 10:07

Better sleep in later life could prevent dementia

Better sleep in later life could prevent dementia

Researchers have highlighted a link between poor sleep in later life and the brain changes that lead to dementia.

Elderly people who struggle to fall into deep sleep are more likely to lose brain cells than those who sleep soundly, according to experts at the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute.

The scientists studied 167 Japanese American men from Hawaii with an average age of 84 to see how much time they spent in deep "slow wave" sleep.

When the 167 men died, an average of six years after the tests, scientists studied their brains to look for lost neurons and areas of dead tissue caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain.

They found that of the 37 men who spent the least time in slow wave sleep, 17 had brain cell loss. Meanwhile among the 38 men who spent the most time in slow wave sleep, seven had brain cell loss.

The study also looked at how a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by sleep apnoea could potentially increase damage to cells.

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea occurs when an individual's airway becomes repeatedly blocked when they sleep This leads to snoring and sudden awakening as the person tries to get his or her breath

Conditions such as dementia can be difficult for the individual and their families, but pre-existing medical travel insurance is available to help people with the condition travel.

Dr Rebecca Gelber, who led the research project, said more research needs to be carried out to see how slow wave sleep could help restore the brain function and whether dealing with sleep apnoea would reduce the risk of dementia.

The study was published in the online version of the journal Neurology.