If You Do This During the Day, It May Be an Early Sign of Dementia

Research found doing one thing often could also be a sign of heightened risk for the condition.

Dementia, unfortunately, is a common affliction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 5 million people over the age of 65 in the U.S. are living with the condition. And while there are warning signs people know to look out for, such as memory loss, confusion, and difficulty concentrating, certain lesser-known red flags can also indicate that cognitive decline is setting in. According to one new study, doing one thing often during the course of the day could be an early sign of dementia. Read on to see which surprising tell-tale sign you should know about.

RELATED: Doing This in the Morning Quadruples Your Dementia Risk, Study Says.

Taking frequent naps during the day could be an early warning sign of dementia.

Map napping on coach

In a new study published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association on March 17, researchers set out to see if there was an association between people who took longer or more frequent naps and the progression of Alzheimer's disease. They also hoped to assess whether those who nap excessively are at an increased risk of this type of dementia. The team used data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project (MAP) to conduct the study, which includes more than 1,000 participants with an average age of 81.

During the experiment, each participant was given Actical—a wearable watch-type device that measures step count and energy expenditure—to wear on their non-dominant wrist for up to two weeks. The team then used a previously vetted sleep scoring algorithm to identify how often each person napped and for how long.

The results found that there were associations between Alzheimer's disease and napping. Not only did excessive daytime sleeping mean that someone was at increased risk for the condition, but being diagnosed with Alzheimer's also "sped up the increase" of daytime napping as they aged.

The researchers called the relationship between daytime napping and Alzheimer's a "vicious cycle."

man sleeping on couch, taking afternoon nap at the living room

The study's authors concluded that their findings could alter the way doctors assess the risk of Alzheimer's in patients or determine its onset. "The vicious cycle we observed between daytime sleep and Alzheimer's disease offers a basis for better understanding the role of sleep in the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease in older adults," Peng Li, PhD, one of the study's lead authors who works in the Medical Biodynamics Program at the Brigham and Women's Hospital's Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, said in a statement.

"Daytime sleep behaviors of older adults are oftentimes ignored, and a consensus for daytime napping in clinical practice and health care is still lacking," Li explained. "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 unfavored clinical progression of the disease. Our study calls for a closer attention to 24-hour sleep patterns—not only nighttime sleep but also daytime sleep—for health monitoring in older adults."

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The researchers said the older average age of participants limited their findings.

Researchers / doctors looking at brain scans stroke

While standing by their findings, the principal authors still admitted some limitations to the study. Namely, while Actical has been widely used in sleep studies, the researchers acknowledge that it isn't the "gold standard" of sleep scoring. The authors also noted a limitation in using a much older age group, meaning that results may not be "easily translated" to a younger cohort.

Researchers suggest further studies on whether stopping daytime naps can reduce Alzheimer's risk.

doctor talking and explaining test result and diagnosis to demoralized elderly patient in hospital hallway

Ultimately, the study's authors suggested that future studies should test whether a direct intervention in daytime napping can lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease or other forms of cognitive decline.

"Our hope is to draw more attention to daytime sleep patterns and the importance of patients noting if their sleep schedule is changing over time," Kun Hu, PhD, a co-senior author of the study also from the Brigham's Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, said in the statement. "Sleep changes are critical in shaping the internal changes in the brain related to the circadian clocks, cognitive decline, and the risk of dementia."

RELATED: If You Do This When Getting Dressed, It May Be a Sign of Dementia.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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