It is well known that there is a link between sleep disturbance and dementia. Good sleep is essential to maintain cognitive activity such as memory recall – a task people with dementia often struggle with as the disease progresses.
However, scientists are still trying to underpin the nature of this relationship: whether sleep disturbances are caused by dementia, or if there is a potential way of highlighting people who could be prone to developing the disease.
This is the question which researchers at UEA’s School of Health Sciences want to answer. The hope is that dealing with the sleep disturbances at an earlier stage could help slow down the progression of the dementia. This would be a ground-breaking development, particularly important with respect to the aging population in the UK.
Researchers will use the brand-new sleep and brain research unit located on the UEA campus to investigate their question. The unit’s first study will investigate whether healthy people who have an increased genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease could be more vulnerable to sleep loss, and will observe how their body clock is affected by this.
The study will observe volunteers who will stay in modern hotel-style accommodation. Their movements will be observed by a group of sleep specialists and they will be connected to sensors measuring brain activity whilst taking part in thinking, memory, balance, coordination, and attention tests throughout their stay.
The volunteers will undergo a three-night lab session, including one night of complete sleep deprivation, or taking multiple short naps. Lead Researcher Dr. Alpar Lazar, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, stated: ‘It may sound gruelling, but [these tests] will help design future studies investigating specific sleep related interventions that could potentially slow down the progression of the disease.’
Dr. Lazar has been awarded the Seed Award by the Wellcome Trust which facilitates the development of new model ideas. The project has also been endowed with gifts-in-kind to help furnish the research unit from multiple local businesses including Dovetail Furnishings, Hughes Electrical, Mattressman and Warings Lifestore.