The connection between Alzheimer’s and daytime drowsiness has come to light, thanks to a new study reported in Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Researchers found that the disease targets the brain cells responsible for helping people to stay awake. It is hoped that this new evidence can bring new direction to research on the disease.
Exploring the Effects of Alzheimer’s on Brain Cells
A team from the University of California, San Francisco, including neuropathologist Lea Grinberg, are responsible for the new study that highlights the connection between sleep problems and dementia. It is known already that sleep problems connected to Alzheimer’s can begin many years or decades before other signs of the disease. The new findings suggest that trouble sleeping could actually be part of the disease and not just an early indicator.
During the research, the team zeroed in on the hypothalamus and brain stem areas of the brain. These regions play important roles in the nervous system. They are involved in regulating people’s attention spans and how much they stay awake. Until now, there hasn’t been a whole lot of dementia research done looking specifically at the brain stem and surrounding regions.
The study’s goal was to look for a protein known as tau, which is often found in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients during postmortems. Tau forms tangles on the inside of nerve cells. The team found high volumes of tau in regions of the hypothalamus and brain stem that house the nerve cells responsible for keeping people awake. Of the three areas looked at, in particular, two of them had lost close to three-quarters of their nerve cells. This evidence could explain why Alzheimer’s disease patients experience feelings of daytime tiredness even when they had a full night’s sleep. This is an area of dementia research requiring further investigation.