The tau brain protein may be to blame
Finding yourself (or a loved one) sleeping more than normal during the day, even after a night of decent rest? New research from University of California San Francisco scientists indicates this may stand out as an early Alzheimer’s warning signal.
It all could boil down to damage from a specific brain protein called tau. The findings contrast with other, more comprehensive research that has looked at the amyloid protein as a key Alzheimer’s culprit.
“Our work shows definitive evidence that the brain areas promoting wakefulness degenerate due to accumulation of tau – not amyloid protein – from the very earliest stages of the disease,” study senior author Lea T. Grinberg told UCSF’s news team.
In other words, the research suggests that Alzheimer’s disease may target and attack the parts of the brain that keep people awake during the day – years before Alzheimer’s actually appears. This underscores the multifaceted nature of Alzheimer’s disease, Jun Oh, lead author of the study and research associate at UCSF’s Grinberg Lab, told Newsweek.
“When people, especially outside of the medical field, hear about Alzheimer’s disease, they only think about memory problems,” Oh said. “However, over the past few years, our lab and many others have shown that neuropsychiatric symptoms, especially problems related to sleep and wakefulness, arise in Alzheimer’s disease, even before cognitive decline.”
Grinberg and her associates reached their conclusions after analyzing the brain tissue from 20 postmortem patients, 13 of whom had Alzheimer’s disease; the remaining seven had healthy brains and served as the control population.
These new observations certainly don’t provide much comfort to anyone worried about developing Alzheimer’s, especially when the data show that the disease strikes someone in the United States every 65 seconds. But just because you or a loved one is sleeping more than usual may not mean Alzheimer’s is imminent.
First try to understand whether the new sleep pattern qualifies as a neuropsychiatric symptom. According to MDedge, some neuropsychiatric issues tied to Alzheimer’s – including auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions, depression, anxiety, psychosis, psychomotor agitation, aggression, apathy, repetitive questioning, wandering, socially or sexually inappropriate behaviors, and sleep disturbances – may be reversible.
The Alzheimer’s Association also discusses managing sleep changes and recommends starting with interventions that do not rely on drugs.
Of course, what defines excessive daytime napping may vary from one person to another. Note, though, that the National Sleep Foundation recommends napping for no more than 30 minutes per day to achieve a state of alertness. UCSF’s Grinberg told Newsweek that feeling sleepy, napping or simply sleeping more during the day, and getting fragmented sleep during the night due to waking up all stand out as changes that may occur long before Alzheimer’s crops up. On the whole, if daytime napping has consistently grown problematic, scheduling an evaluation makes sense.
Kelly Teal has worked as a journalist, writer, editor and analyst for more than 20 years. Her experience and skill enable her to write with finesse and authority on topics including health care, technology and lifestyle. She serves as principal of her own company, Kreativ Energy LLC.