A rapid rise in regular napping during the daytime could be a sign of dementia, according to a new study. The scientists, who published their findings in the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Journal, highlighted the potential of a vicious cycle occurring.
They explained that Alzheimer’s could cause more napping, but that additional sleeping in the daytime could worsen symptoms. Family members shouldn’t be alarmed if elderly relatives take brief naps, as these can help individuals recharge in older age.
It’s if there’s a sudden increase in their length or occurrence that it could be worth mentioning to a GP. As there’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, an early diagnosis is the best option for slowing its progression and helping the elderly remain independent for as long as possible.
The report on the study said: "Older adults tended to nap longer and more frequently with ageing, while the progression of Alzheimer's dementia accelerates this change by more than doubling the annual increases in nap duration/frequency.”
Scientists analysed data from 1,401 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project over a period of 14 years. The average age of the participants was 81 and around three quarters of them were women.
For two weeks every year for the duration of the study, each individual wore a device on their non-dominant wrist to record the length and frequency of their naps. This data was then analysed in conjunction with annual cognitive skills tests.
The study found those who napped once a day or more had a 40 per cent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than those who slept less during the day. In participants who didn’t develop cognitive impairment, napping was seen to increase by 11 minutes a day on average for each year they aged.
After mild cognitive impairment was diagnosed, this increase more than doubled to 24 minutes daily. Once Alzheimer’s disease had been determined in a participant, daily napping was seen to increase to an average of 68 minutes per day.
Dr Peng Li, first author in the study, said: "Daytime sleep behaviours of older adults are oftentimes ignored, and a consensus for daytime napping in clinical practice and health care is still lacking.
“Our results not only suggest that excessive daytime napping may signal an elevated risk of Alzheimer's dementia, but they also show that faster yearly increase in daytime napping may be a sign of deteriorating or unfavoured clinical progression of the disease.”
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, representing between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, approximately 900,000 people in the UK are living with dementia and around 70 per cent of those in care homes have some kind of cognitive impairment.