Study Investigates Link between Sleep Disturbances and Dementia Risk in Older Adults

A new study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, has looked into the relationship between sleep disturbances and dementia risk in older adults. By examining 10 years of prospective data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), a longitudinal panel study that surveys a nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years and older within the USA, the study revealed significant links between three measures of sleep disturbance and the risk for developing dementia over a 10-year period.

The investigators found that those with sleep-initiation insomnia (trouble falling asleep within 30 minutes) and sleep medication use had an increased risk of dementia, while those with sleep-maintenance insomnia (difficulty falling back to sleep after waking) were less likely to develop dementia over this 10-year period of monitoring. The reason behind this is unclear, however, the researchers wish to gain more insight into sleep disruptions and duration through further studies.[0]

Lead investigator Roger Wong, PhD, MPH, MSW, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY, USA, said: “We expected sleep-initiation insomnia and sleep medication usage to increase dementia risk, but we were surprised to find sleep-maintenance insomnia decreased dementia risk. The motivation behind this research was prompted on a personal level. My father has been experiencing chronic sleep disturbances since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and I was concerned how this would affect his cognition in the future. After reading the existing literature, I was surprised to see mixed findings on the sleep-dementia relationship, so I decided to investigate this topic.”

Co-investigator Margaret Anne Lovier, MPH, Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY, USA, added: “By focusing on the variations in sleep disturbances, our findings can help to inform lifestyle changes that can reduce dementia risk.”

These findings suggest that sleep-initiation insomnia and sleep medication usage may elevate dementia risk. Considering the present evidence, the risk of dementia should be evaluated with sleep disturbances taken into account. Further investigation is required to assess other indications of sleep disruption and to determine the reasons behind the diminished dementia risk in elderly people with sleep-maintenance insomnia.

0. “Good and bad news for older adults in link between sleep and dementia” New Atlas, 7 Mar. 2023,

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