Alzheimer’s Disease and Sleep

alzheimers disease and sleep

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that negatively affects a person’s mental capabilities including memory, speech, and their ability to perform normal daily functions. It can even affect their ability to sleep uninterrupted through the night. Alzheimer’s disease causes these issues as brain cells degenerate and eventually die off. It affects approximately 5 million people in the United States and usually develops after age 60.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease develops slowly with early symptoms usually including short term memory issues. As the disease progresses, symptoms will increase in severity and additional symptoms usually develop such as losing the ability to perform normal daily functions (cooking, cleaning, etc.). In advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, patients may forget who people are (even loved ones and family members), or lose the ability to speak and think competently.

How does Alzheimer’s Disease Affect Sleep?

Alzheimer’s disease will affect people in varying ways and will usually have different effects based on the stage of the disease. In early stages, some patients with Alzheimer’s disease will sleep more than normal or they may feel disoriented or confused when they wake up.

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, patients are often awoken during the night and will begin to sleep for periods during the day. In more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, patients will develop even more irregular sleep patterns as they are unable to sleep for long periods and will often take irregular naps throughout the day and night.

Patients may develop what is known as “sundowning,” which refers to an agitated behavior. This agitated behavior may be the result of the irregular sleeping patterns that develop in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies also showed possible links with Alzheimer’s disease and obstructive sleep apnea, and an increased risk of heart disease.

What are Treatment Options for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease rely on treating the symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease as there is currently no cure. Treatment options usually involve drug therapies and behavioral therapy. Medications for Alzheimer’s disease works by stopping an enzyme that deteriorates brain function or by regulating a chemical in the brain that is necessary for memory and learning. Behavior related symptoms such as depression, psychosis or sleep issues can also be treated through different medications. Behavioral therapy for Alzheimer’s disease such as memory training or therapy to help with sleeping issues can also be very effective to help alleviate symptoms.