Just go to sleep

At first glance, this doesn’t sound very helpful:

Yaffe recently conducted a series of studies evaluating more than 1,300 adults older than 75, initially assessing their sleep patterns and, five years later, their cognitive abilities. She found that those with sleep-disordered breathing or sleep apnea had more than twice the odds of developing dementia years later.

Those who developed disruptions of their circadian rhythm were also at increased risk. So were those who awoke throughout the night, tossing and turning. The findings were presented at the annual conference of the Alzheimer’s Association.

So now, not only do you have the problem of falling to sleep but you also have to worry that not falling asleep might lead to Alzheimer’s–that’ll help you to fall asleep. If you look at it closely though it is good news:

Older adults can be routinely screened for sleep problems. And, if diagnosed early, treatments can help them sleep better and possibly, down the line, reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

There are a few ways the association might work:

  • problems sleeping leads to cognitive problems. If this is true, then it’s really good news since there are known and effective treatments of sleep disorders.
  • the conditions that lead to cognitive decline also lead to sleep disorders (so, somewhat, cognitive decline causes the sleep disorders) or a third cause (a confounding factor) leads to both cognitive decline and sleep disorder. In this case, the sleep disorder acts as an early warning signal of cognitive decline and treatment for cognitive decline can begin earlier.

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