Coinciding with National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Sleep/Wake Research Centre PhD candidate Rosie Gibson has started a pilot study to try and understand and improve the quality of sleep by people with dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
With dementia, sleep/wake patterns can become less defined with high levels of sleepiness during the day and confused waking behaviours at night.
“There is evidence that the specific sleep disturbances associated with dementia are the result of accelerating ageing in the circadian body clock and the mechanisms through which it regulates the sleep/wake cycle,” Ms Gibson who is conducting her research in the community says.
Other age-related changes for the study participants, who are all aged over 65, such as the onset of retirement could also encourage an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, she says.
“Through using routine exposure to bright light and physical activity as well as teaching good sleep habits it is hypothesised that the sleep of those affected may be improved.” Just as importantly, this includes the caregivers whose sleep may also be disrupted by caring for the needs of their partner.
“Studies show that sleep disturbance is a key reason for carers to institutionalise their relatives,” Ms Gibson says.
Working with Alzheimer’s Wellington, Ms Gibson has recruited five pairs of people with dementia and their caregivers for her research, but would like to enlist the help of another 30 pairs before June next year. The research is being funded with the help of grants from the Health Research Council, Alzheimer’s New Zealand Charitable trust and the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust.
For the first week of a six-week study period, participants are being fitted with a device worn on the wrist that measures movement and can be used to monitor sleep/wake patterns. At the same time they are asked to complete a sleep diary and fill out a questionnaire seeking comments on their sleep, mood, memory and how they feel.
For the next five weeks participating couples will be asked to get regular morning light exposure (either outdoors or using a light box provided) and if possible to exercise regularly around the middle of the day. In the last week of the study the participants are re-assessed to see if there are any changes to their sleep/wake patterns.
As part of the study Ms Gibson has devised an educational manual offering tips such as manageable exercise, relaxation techniques and avoiding certain food and drinks before bedtime, to help people with dementia and their caregivers to get a good night’s sleep.
“It won’t be a cure for dementia but it’s a step to help people cope with the disease when living at home,” she says.
PhD candidate Rosie Gibson, who is researching ways to improve the sleep of people with dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, was out collecting for the cause this week. A further collection will be held on Saturday. National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is being observed throughout September.