• Question: hi how are dementia, brains and sleep all related?

    Asked by amber wootton to Paul, Nadine, Alex on 16 Nov 2018.
    • Photo: Alex Reid

      Alex Reid answered on 16 Nov 2018:

      Hi Amber, thank you for the question! Dementia is actually an ‘umbrella’ term which means it covers a range of different problems. A very common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which effects around 850,000 people in the UK. The link between sleep and Alzheimer’s might happen in two ways (but there could be more I don’t know of). On one level sleep is very important for processing memory, it helps integrate new information and ‘consolidate it’ with what you already know. People with Alzheimer’s have a huge amount of sleep disruption, as such they may not able to process memories as well as healthy people. This may contribute to some of the memory loss associated with the condition. At a second level there may also be what we call a ‘negative feedback loop’. Worse sleep in Alzheimer’s might cause more brain deterioration, which in turn leads to worse sleep, and so on. Research into how this happens is still ongoing, but in the future some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s might be treated through sleep-based interventions.

    • Photo: Nadine Mirza

      Nadine Mirza answered on 16 Nov 2018:

      Hey Amber!
      I think Alex has provided a great answer to this and a good explanation of dementia. Just to sort of reiterate- dementia is damage to brain cells and as mentioned, Alzheimer’s is one of these- it’s the break down of brain cells and the development of these weird protein plaques that stop brain cells from communicating. There are other types of dementia too thought like frontotemporal dementia- the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain do something called ‘atrophy’ which basically means they shrink. Another type of dementia is vascular dementia- which is when not enough blood is reaching the brain and this can be caused by diseases that relate to blood and blood vessels like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
      As Alex mentioned dementia can really impact quality of sleep among other things- it can disrupt sleep but it can also cause people to sleep a lot more as well!
      But also, sleep can also be used as a prevention method for dementia. Having a regular and well adjusted sleep schedule during the proper hours of the night definitely reduces risk for dementia!