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2021 Pilot Awards for Global Brain Health Leaders (GBHI)

Understanding sleep-wake alterations in Alzheimer’s disease

Neus Falgàs, M.D., Ph.D.
Hospital Clínic Barcelona
Reus, Spain

Studies show that more than 50% of individuals with dementia experience sleep disruptions or poor sleep patterns that precede cognitive impairment by several years. Past studies suggest that sleep loss may reduce brain function by hindering the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other or by damaging certain brain structures. The locus coeruleus (LC) is a brain region, known to be important for regulating sleep. Studies show that the LC is one the brain regions vulnerable to damage in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Recently researchers have begun to develop specialized brain scan tools to detect early brain changes in the LC associated with Alzheimer’s and how it may impact the sleep-awake cycle. Dr. Neus Falgas will recruit 100 older adults with mild Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Unit- Hospital Clinic de Barcelona. The participants will undergo specialized brain scans to detect brain changes in the LC. Further, Dr. Falgas will administer a questionnaire to the participants who will self-report their sleep-awake cycle. Additionally, in a subset of 40 participants, Dr. Falgas will measure sleep quality by using a sleep-monitoring device to evaluate sleep signals (overnight) and another tracking device called actigraphy, which will be worn on the wrist to provide information about sleep quality (conducted over the course of 1 week). Dr. Falgas will then be able to compare these results to the brain scans to evaluate how changes in LC may impact sleep quality. If successful, these findings may give rise to further opportunities to conduct long-term studies. The results could provide a better understanding of the role of the LC in the development of sleep changes observed in Alzheimer’s and could be used to potentially develop an early diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s.

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