Poor sleep linked to dementia risk in older veterans

New research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2014 suggests that sleep disturbances in older veterans may be a risk factor for dementia.

Posted on 13th July 2014

New research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2014 suggests that sleep disturbances in older veterans may be a risk factor for dementia.

The researchers from the University of California in San Francisco studied medical records from 200,000 veterans over the age of 55. The volunteers were assessed for sleep disturbances and followed up for eight years. The team found that 7.5% of the veterans had sleep disturbances including apnoea and insomnia. During the follow-up, 10.6% of veterans with sleep disturbances developed dementia compared to 9% of those without. After adjusting for lifestyle factors, this difference translated into a 30% relative increased risk of dementia in those with sleep disturbances. This was higher in those with both sleep disturbances and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“Previous research has investigated sleep changes in people with dementia and we know that diseases like Alzheimer’s can have a profound effect on someone’s sleep patterns. This study suggests that sleep disturbances may be linked to a higher risk of dementia, but the potential reason for this link remains unclear. Sleep disturbances could be a risk factor for dementia, but they could also be a consequence of underlying brain changes in this group of older adults or factors relating to their occupation in the army.

“As this research was carried out in a very specific group of mainly male veterans, more research will be needed to investigate a role for sleep disturbances in dementia risk in the general population. Understanding the risk factors for dementia will help researchers to learn more about the biology of the disease and help people to stay healthy for as long as possible. Continued investment in research is vital if we are to build a fuller picture of the complex causes of dementia.”

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