Alzheimer's Disease and Sleep

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be linked genetically with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In  a recent study , researchers at Stanford University Medical Center found that a gene associated with OSA is also associated with a higher risk of AD and other chronic illnesses such as heart disease. These results highlight the complexity of AD and shed light on the need to treat the range of symptoms associated with it in order to offer patients the best possible quality of life.

Sleep problems also affect the physical and mental health of people who care for AD patients. In  one recent study , researchers found an increased risk of heart disease for elderly caregivers of AD patients. In addition, sleep problems among caregivers increases the likelihood of AD patients being cared for in an institutional facility, a decision that may ultimately permit a healthier life for both the caregiver and the patient.

SYMPTOMS:

Symptoms of AD develop slowly, usually beginning with short term memory problems. Over time, patients gradually lose more and more of their mental capabilities. For example, they may have difficulty remembering people or events and then lose the ability to do everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and bathing. Eventually, AD patients may not be able to recognize loved ones, speak, or think clearly.

Another primary symptom of AD is a disrupted sleep/wake cycle, which causes patients to be sleepy during the daytime and alert and restless at night. Because caregivers are likely to be asleep during the night when AD patients are active, sleep/wake disruptions can be a dangerous problem for AD sufferers. In addition, AD patients who do not get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from agitation.

Additional symptoms of AD include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Incontinence
  • Speech problems
  • An inability to dress, bath, or groom oneself
  • Wandering and getting lost
  • Losing items
  • Depression

TREATMENT:

There is no cure for AD, but there are behavioral and drug therapies that may slow its progression and treat its symptoms. For example, cholinesterase inhibitors are medications used to treat mild to moderate AD. They work by blocking the action of an enzyme that breaks down