Doing This During the Day Could Be an Early Alzheimer's Sign, Study Warns
Could this common habit be a red flag?
Alzheimer's disease and other forms of cognitive decline present a devastating worldwide problem—and it's a condition that is steadily on the rise. According to Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI), there were over 55 million people living with dementia across the world in 2020, and that number is projected to reach 139 million by 2050. There is no known cure for dementia, making it essential to look for early symptoms of the disease in order to access treatment. The benefits of an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease are many—but some of the symptoms may be easy to miss. Read on to find out about one red flag that could be an early warning sign of cognitive decline.
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Memory loss is a well-known symptom of dementia—but can also be a normal part of aging.
Alzheimer's disease is a debilitating condition that many associate with memory loss and confusion. "One of the most common signs of Alzheimer's disease, especially in the early stage, is forgetting recently learned information," says the Alzheimer's Association. "Others include forgetting important dates or events, asking the same questions over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own."
But approximately 40 percent of people experience some amount of memory loss after the age of 65 as part of the process of aging, reports the Alzheimer's Society. This type of normal, age-related memory loss should not disrupt your daily life, or limit your ability to complete routine tasks.
Alzheimer's disease can cause a wide range of symptoms.
When Alzheimer's or other types of cognitive decline occur, changes are taking place in the brain. Tens of billions of neurons—or cells—communicate information to different parts of the body, explains the National Institute on Aging (NIA), and the disease impacts them: "Alzheimer's disease disrupts this communication among neurons, resulting in loss of function and cell death."
The possible symptoms of Alzheimer's are wide-ranging because so many areas of the brain may be affected by the disease, thus causing damage to numerous abilities such as memory, language, muscle strength, and social engagement, says the NIA. As this brain damage occurs, "a person with Alzheimer's gradually loses his or her ability to live and function independently."
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Certain symptoms of dementia are more subtle than others.
Many people may not know to look out for certain possible symptoms of dementia, because they're subtle and less commonly known. While napping during the day is considered a way to refresh your energy—and is even thought to have multiple health benefits, including a decrease in stroke risk—excessive napping is also linked to an increased risk of dementia. "A new study found that daytime naps were associated with an increased risk of dementia," noted Everyday Health in 2022. "Older adults in the study were 40 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease when they napped daily or snoozed for more than an hour on nap days, the study found."
Lead author of the study Peng Li, PhD, told the The Harvard Gazette that the study's results also found that continued, increased daytime napping "may be a sign of deteriorating or unfavored clinical progression of the disease."
Daytime napping may be an early symptom of Alzheimer's.
As with other symptoms of Alzheimer's, extreme daytime napping in dementia patients is due to damaged brain cells. "Areas of the brain that keep you awake during the day are damaged in the early stages of the memory-robbing disease, which is why people with Alzheimer's may nap excessively long before they start to struggle with forgetting things," WebMD explains.
Just as being aware of the early warning signs of cognitive decline is crucial, preventative methods may also be effective—and it's never too late to put these healthy lifestyle choices on your to-do list.
These activities include participating in brain-stimulating activities; learning new skills; eating a healthy diet and getting physical exercise; and making sure to maintain social interaction with others, Gregory Day, MD, explained to the Mayo Clinic. If you're concerned about any signs of cognitive decline, "reach out to your primary care provider or a neurologist for additional guidance," he advises.