Research uses sound to improve sleep in dementia

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A recent study reveals that using sound to stimulate brain waves could significantly improve sleep quality for those suffering from dementia or cognitive decline.

Sleep disturbances are notoriously common in dementia, affecting up to half of those diagnosed with the condition.

The research, carried out by scientists from the University of Surrey and the UK Dementia Research Institute Centre for Care Research & Technology at Imperial College London, was recently published in the journal PLOS Biology.

It focuses on alpha rhythms, specific types of brain waves linked to memory and perception, which are often disrupted in those with cognitive decline.

Dr. Ines Violante, a Senior Lecturer in Psychological Neuroscience at the University of Surrey and the study’s senior author, described alpha oscillations as a crucial aspect of the brain’s electrical activity, though their full role remains not entirely understood.

“Using sound is a powerful, non-invasive way to stimulate these oscillations,”

Dr. Violante explained. This method could be crucial for developing new treatment strategies, especially since these brain waves tend to slow down significantly in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related conditions.

The technique used in this study, known as Alpha Closed-Loop Auditory Stimulation (aCLAS), involves playing sounds that are timed to the specific phases of alpha rhythms.

Researchers continuously monitored the brain’s electrical activity, and whenever an alpha wave reached a certain phase, a burst of pink noise was emitted. This method allowed the team to either speed up or slow down these alpha rhythms, depending on the timing of the sound.

Interestingly, the impact of the sound also varied depending on the origin of the alpha oscillations within the brain.

Dr. Henry Hebron, the paper’s first author and a former doctoral student at the University of Surrey, noted that this approach uniquely addresses the alpha rhythm directly.

He remarked, “What we have found is that alpha oscillations can be manipulated via sound using a closed-loop approach.”

The study also uncovered that the timing of these sounds could influence sleep stages. Sounds played at certain phases prevented participants from entering deeper sleep stages without waking them, whereas sounds at other phases did not disrupt sleep.

This finding suggests a nuanced relationship between alpha rhythms and sleep stages, opening new avenues for research into sleep manipulation.

The team is optimistic about the implications of their findings. The ability to modulate alpha waves through sound presents a potential method to enhance both cognition and sleep quality, which could greatly benefit those with dementia.

Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, Director of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre and a group leader at the research institute, emphasized the importance of further studies. “There is much to be uncovered about the role of the alpha rhythm in sleep and cognition,” he stated.

The team is now extending their research to examine the effects of closed-loop auditory stimulation during REM sleep, a phase where alpha rhythms are present but their function remains poorly understood.

This innovative approach could lead to significant advancements in treating sleep issues associated with dementia, offering hope for improved quality of life for those affected by these challenging conditions.

For more information about dementia, please see recent studies about brain food: nourishing your mind to outsmart dementia and results showing that re-evaluating the role of diet in dementia risk.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about the power of healthy fats for brain health and results showing that Mediterranean diet may preserve brain volume in older adults.

The research findings can be found in PLoS Biology.

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