Whether is it worry, stress or an overactive mind, many seniors have trouble falling and staying soundly asleep. Other than feeling a bit foggy the next morning, however, as well as feeling the need for a mid-day nap to catch up on lost sleep, the consequences of sleep deprivation have seemed marginal. That is, until research recently suggested a possible link between restless sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.
Deep sleep allows the brain to eliminate toxins, along with the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and it seems that a build-up of these toxins is shown to harm the brains of lab animals. As a result, a human study is starting to better understand the association and its impact.
With the use of a powerful MRI system, the strength of the brain’s signal to get rid of toxins can be examined: a strong signal in brains whose toxin elimination is effective, and a weaker one in those who may be developing Alzheimer’s. The goal will be to determine if too little deep sleep does, actually, affect the chance of a future Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and if so, to ascertain the best treatment options to improve quality of sleep.
The challenge in the human leg of the trial will be in assisting individuals to feel at ease enough in the MRI machine to experience the natural phases of sleep, between the noise and cramped and in some cases claustrophobia-inducing quarters. However, it’s a lot more feasible and less-intrusive option than the lab animal study, which included developing a window in the skull and observing the brain together with a powerful microscope and laser. And the benefits may potentially be life-changing: identifying individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease because of insufficient sleep, and opening doors to fresh treatment options.
Per Bill Rooney, director of Oregon Health & Science University’s Advanced Imaging Research Center, “It could be anything from having people exercise more regularly, or new drugs. A lot of the sleep aids don’t particularly focus on driving people to deep sleep stages.”
Financing for human trials is currently in place, and the research is slated to begin this year.
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