Does poor sleep cause dementia?

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It makes sense that after a night of poor sleep, we might not be thinking as clearly the following day. But what about engaging in poor sleep habits throughout our lifetime? Could that put us at risk for long-term cognitive impairments, such as dementia?

Even in people who don’t seem to be cognitively impaired, poor sleep seems to correlate with subtle changes in the same brain proteins that are used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The question is why.

Possible explanations

There are several explanations, which are not mutually exclusive and could all be true:

  • Sleep is biologically important for reducing or clearing harmful neurodegenerative proteins from our brains. Exciting new studies in mice have suggested that sleep may clean the brain of amyloid beta, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

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Doll therapy helps people with dementia

Woman_with_dollsThe feelings many people get when they hold a sleeping baby in their arms are ones of warmth, comfort and happiness. Doll therapy can be a very therapeutic activity for those with dementia who don’t have actual babies in their lives.

Many of the behaviors that we see in those with dementia – pacing, agitation, boredom, sadness – are related to the idea that they don’t have a feeling of purpose. Providing a doll to someone with dementia (especially mothers, but this works with males and non-mothers as well) brings out the natural desire and ability to express affection, to nurture and to care for someone.

Doll therapy has been associated with a number of benefits, including a reduction in episodes of distress, an increase in general well-being, improved appetite and more engagement with others around them.  Continue reading

Longer sentences as you age?

Study investigates whether conversational interaction style can indicate cognitive impairment

Seniors_for memory loss

It’s important to know if your mental ability is decreasing as you age.

A lot of money is being spent on sophisticated indicators of dementia. For example, research is increasingly focused on identifying Alzheimer’s disease at the mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, stage, or even earlier (the so-called pre-symptomatic stage). Those patients would then have early access to interventions and clinical trials with the latest treatments.

A pair of U-M researchers, while investigating older people with and without MCI, recently happened upon an observation that could help: the subjects with MCI were very chatty.

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At night, our cells may clean our brain

Process may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s

Studies in mice indicate that our brains may go through a process while we sleep that rids them of toxins that build up during the day

Did you ever wonder what happens to our brains at night? If recent studies in mice are any indication, our brains may go through a process that rids them of toxins that build up during the day.

The studies suggest that during sleep, there is an expansion of extracellular space within the brain that corresponds with increased fluid movement around and into the deep parts of the brain. This fluid movement is associated with a more robust exchange of small compounds into and out of the brain itself.

In mice studies, some of these compounds include toxic proteins—namely amyloid beta protein, which is implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. How external fluid moves into, within and out of the brain tissue still remains a mystery.  Continue reading

Living with memory loss

There are countless books and published research studies about dementia that give us insight into the

Members of the U-M Elderberry Club have mild memory loss, but that doesn't stop them from having fun, caring for each other and being creative.

Members of the U-M Elderberry Club have mild memory loss, but that doesn’t stop them from having fun, caring for each other and being creative.

disease. However, the best resource cannot be found on a shelf or an online article, but rather in the conversations we have with those who are living with dementia.

I recently visited the Elderberry Club—the first group of its kind in Michigan and the only group in the country that is designed exclusively for women with mild memory loss. The club meets at the U-M Health System Turner Senior Resource Center once a week. The women come together for support, discussion, friendship, creative expression and education.

During meetings, the women participate in a number of activities. They create art, volunteer in the community, write poetry, listen to music or presentations, and much more. The day I visited, the women were creating beautiful marbled ink artwork using the ancient Japanese technique called suminagash. Joy and laughter filled the room. Their personalities were vibrant and unique, and I could tell that they accepted and loved each other.  Continue reading

Alzheimer’s Disease Vs. Dementia

What is the Difference?

times go by concept digital illustration orange on blackWhat is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? This is one of the most common questions I receive when I give presentations in the community or answer the U-M Memory Connection line. This is a great question because the terms are often used in place of one another, despite the fact that they mean different things.

In brief, dementia is a broad term used to describe a collection of symptoms. The symptoms are caused by changes in brain function and they are severe enough to affect daily functioning. There are many reasons why someone may have dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for approximately 75% of dementia cases, and that is why the words are often used interchangeably.

Visual images

I like to use the following visual images when illustrating the difference:

  • Imagine that the fruit bowl in your kitchen is dementia. While there are several different pieces of fruit in the bowl, the fruit found most frequently, perhaps a banana, is Alzheimer’s disease. The other fruits in the bowl represent other causes of dementia that aren’t quite as common, such as vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, or reversible dementias induced by things like a urinary tract infection or a vitamin deficiency.
  • Imagine that your grandchild has a runny nose. Their runny nose is not a specific disease or condition; it is just a symptom. There are many different potential reasons for the runny nose. It may be caused by influenza, a sinus infection or a reaction to being outside in a cold temperature for too long. In the same way, dementia is not a specific disease and there are several reasons a person may exhibit dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

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