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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After stroke: A lot of life to live

Patient Jill Weatherly grateful for the gift of life

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Jill Weatherly and family

Jill Weatherly’s advice to anyone feeling the warning signs of stroke: “Get medical help when your symptoms start.” That’s what she did on July 25, 2015. Luckily, Weatherly’s husband drove her to the University of Michigan Health System Emergency Department, where the stroke team administered the clot-busting medication, tPA.

“They saved my life,” Weatherly says. “I got speech and motion back within 15 minutes. And every 15 minutes or so I could see improvement. I’m really grateful for the care.”

Weatherly and her husband were on their way to a leisurely late-morning breakfast. She was driving when she lost most of her speech and her right side went numb. With amazing presence of mind, she got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side and got in. Her husband drove the rest of the way—right to the doors of U-M Emergency.  Continue reading

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

Only Half of Seniors With Signs of Dementia Are Being Tested

Cognitive Tests Now Included in Medicare’s Annual Wellness Exam

Medicare's free annual wellness exam now includes cognitive evaluations.

Medicare’s free annual wellness exam now includes cognitive evaluations.

A University of Michigan study finds that as many as 1.8 million Americans over the age of 70 with dementia have not been evaluated by a doctor. The study was published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Data from the study come from before the start of Medicare’s free annual wellness exams for seniors, which began in 2011 under the Affordable Care Act and are required to include a cognitive evaluation.

We sat down with neurologist Vikas Kotagal, M.D., M.S., one of the co-authors of the study, to talk about cognitive evaluations and the results of the study. Kotagal sees patients at the University of Michigan Health System and is an assistant professor in the U-M Medical School’s Department of Neurology.

What can patients and families do if they think their relative may have dementia?

The best thing you can do is to recommend that your relative take advantage of Medicare’s free annual wellness exams for seniors. You can just bring it up as part of regular conversation, without even mentioning the concerns about memory. People just need to contact their regular primary care doctor to set this up. The exam is required to include some sort of brief cognitive evaluation.  Continue reading