A new study claims that hispanics who have difficulties with sleeping may be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
What did the study find?
The study found that there is a link between insomnia and a decline in neurocognitive functioning. This can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia according to Dr. Alberto R. Ramos, professor of neurology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
“This finding is particularly important because Hispanics have a significantly higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with non-Hispanic whites,” Ramos said.
During the study, researchers throughout the country analyzed the sleep patterns of people suffering from a variety of sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea. The study’s participants consisted of 16,000 hispanics at four centers in Chicago, San Diego, Miami, and New York City.
The participants were chosen from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, considered by experts to be a comprehensive study of hispanic adults in the United States. Fifty-five percent of the participants were women. They came from a diverse range of Latin American backgrounds including Cuban, Mexican, Dominican, and Puerto Rican, among others.
Participants were given a neurocognitive test designed to analyze their word and verbal fluency, mental status, verbal episodic learning and memory, and their processing speed. They were tested again seven years later.
“We observed that prolonged periods of sleep and chronic insomnia symptoms led to declines in memory, executive function and processing speed,” said Ramos. “Those measures can precede the development of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Participants who suffered from insomnia had a marked effect on their memory. Abnormal periods of sleep had the biggest effect on executive functions and processing speed (how the mind processes and organizes information).
The participants who slept less than six hours per night also had issues with obesity, high blood pressure, and other adverse health outcomes.
Ramos claims that it’s still too early to tell which specific individuals will develop Alzheimer’s later in life, but that he’s certain that the findings are a good indicator of vulnerability.
The main benefit of the study, according to Ramos, is that it will build awareness among the hispanic community.
“We may also be able to identify at-risk patients who may benefit from early intervention to prevent or reduce the risk of dementia,” he said.
He also hopes that this study will cause a “change of culture”, meaning that he wants people to be aware of the fact that sleep is absolutely vital to your health. He claims that the sweet spot for adults is seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
The study “Sleep and Neurocognitive Decline in the Hispanic Community Health Study / Study of Latinos” was published Wednesday in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Why is this study important?
Alzheimer’s is one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. This extremely common form of dementia is the fifth most common cause of death among people who are older than 65.
Over five million people had different forms of dementia – of which Alzheimer’s is the most common type – in 2014. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that this number will double by 2060. Hispanics are the second fastest growing ethnic group in the United States and are predicted to have the largest increase in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Non-hispanic whites will still have the highest total number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses, but black and hispanic people will have a higher risk of developing the disease. The CDC estimates that there will be 3.2 million hispanics and 2.2 million black people affected by the disease in 2060.