Sleep Can Possibly Warn Dementia Patients 10 Years Before Diagnosis

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is one of the most common types of dementia. The NHS suggests that LBD is rooted in collected Lewy bodies, an abnormal protein in brain cells. These proteins can build up in the brain and impair memory and muscle development.

A study revealed that years before LBD is diagnosed, it can exhibit symptoms, especially during a person’s sleep. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic pinpointed a correlation between REM sleep disorder and LBD in their 2013 report.

"While it is, of course, true that not everyone who has this sleep disorder develops dementia with Lewy bodies, as many as 75 to 80 percent of men with dementia with Lewy bodies in our Mayo database did experience REM sleep behavior disorder. So it is a very powerful marker for the disease," reported Melissa Murray, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic in Florida and lead investigator of the 2013 study.

The team concluded: "The strongest predictor of whether a man is developing LBD is whether he acts out his dreams while sleeping."

They also added that "patients are five times more likely" to suffer from LBD if they have such symptoms.

In a 2023 study, the Mayo Clinic found that patients were interested in following their REM sleep disorder prognosis and wanted to learn about treatment and prevention.

What is REM sleep disorder?

REM sleep happens after our non-REM sleep, usually when we're dreaming. Our brain is highly active during REM sleep and is crucial to our brain health. REM sleep has been linked with healthy memory and cognitive function, aiding with emotional mindset and creativity.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder is a type of sleep disorder where you constantly dream vivid, frequently troublesome dreams with vibrant sounds and fast movements in the arm and leg during RM sleep.

It is typically not normal to constantly move during REM sleep, and around 20% of our sleep is consumed in REM sleep, usually during the second half of sleep. REM sleep behavior disorder is usually gradual and may intensify with time. This is often linked with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s or multiple system atrophy.

Some symptoms of Lewy body dementia are hallucinations, confusion, cognitive impairment, and sluggish movement. This can hinder one’s daily life and interfere with daily activities. Although there is no cure or treatment for Lewy body dementia, medications and therapy are available to help with ongoing symptoms, such as occupational and psychological therapy.

How can we get more REM sleep?

In order to get more REM sleep and maintain a healthy brain function, there are many steps you can take:

  • Having a routine sleep schedule
  • Getting more sunlight and regulating circadian rhythm
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol
  • Avoid caffeine-intake at night

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