Alzheimer’s disease is a common type of dementia that affects about 50 million people worldwide.
The main symptom is memory loss, but patients can also become restless, show poor judgment, or constantly search for something. These symptoms often get worse in the evening and at night.
This worsening of symptoms late in the day is called “sundowning.” Also, people with Alzheimer’s often have trouble sleeping.
Their body’s natural daily sleep-wake cycle, known as “circadian rhythm,” gets out of sync. Scientists have known about these problems for a while, but they are still trying to understand why they happen.
The Latest Alzheimer’s Research at UVA Health
Researchers at UVA Health recently made an exciting discovery. They think increased light sensitivity might be causing the sleep problems and sundowning seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
The team shared their findings in a scientific journal called Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
They believe that these new insights could be important for finding treatments for Alzheimer’s and managing its symptoms. For example, it might be possible to use light therapy to manage the sleep problems.
The Connection Between Sleep Quality and Alzheimer’s
This research could also help prevent Alzheimer’s. If we understand the link between the disease and sleep, we might be able to stop the disease before it starts. For example, poor sleep quality is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
When we sleep, our brains naturally cleanse themselves of harmful proteins called amyloid beta proteins. These proteins can form harmful tangles in the brain in Alzheimer’s.
Studying Alzheimer’s in Mice
To better understand Alzheimer’s, the UVA researchers studied mice with Alzheimer’s.
They changed the mice’s exposure to light to give them “jet lag” and see how it affected their behavior. The mice with Alzheimer’s reacted differently than normal mice.
The Alzheimer’s mice adapted to a six-hour time change more quickly than normal mice.
The researchers think this is because the mice with Alzheimer’s were more sensitive to changes in light. Normally, our bodies gradually adjust to changes in light. But for the Alzheimer’s mice, this change happened very quickly.
Possible Explanations for the Findings
The UVA team initially thought inflammation in the brain or a protein called “mutant tau” might be causing the mice’s quick adaptation. However, they found that these factors did not make a difference.
Instead, they found that the retina (the part of the eye that senses light) might play a big role in the increased light sensitivity in Alzheimer’s. This gives them a new direction for future research.
The Future of Alzheimer’s Treatment
Dr. Heather Ferris, one of the researchers, said that controlling the kind and timing of light might help reduce sleep problems in Alzheimer’s.
She hopes that this research will lead to the development of light therapies that can slow down the progression of the disease.
The research team included graduate student Thaddeus Weigel, Cherry L. Guo, Ali D. Güler, and Dr. Ferris. Their findings offer a promising new avenue in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
If you care about sleep, please read studies about the science on 3 traditional bedtime remedies, and this sleep supplement may help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline.
The study was published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
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