The amount you sleep could indicate your risk of dementia – what you need to know

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Dementia is a general term for a cluster of symptoms associated with brain damage caused by disease. One of the most common forms of brain decline is dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), which is thought to account for 10 to 15 percent of all cases of dementia. DLB is a type of dementia that shares symptoms with both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

“It particularly affects the person’s ability to think and move and can cause hallucinations, fluctuations in alertness and sleep disturbances which can be extremely distressing for the person and their family,” explains Dementia UK.

According to the charity, one telltale sleep disturbance is spending a lot of time sleeping.

DLB can also cause disturbed sleep – known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder, whereby people are restless and can experience intense dreams/nightmares, says the health body.

Other general symptoms include:

  • Have slowed movement, difficulty walking, shuffling or appear rigid (as in Parkinson’s disease)
  • Experience tremors – usually in the hands whilst at rest
  • Have problems with balance and be prone to falls
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Difficulties with swallowing.

How to respond

See a GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia, especially if you’re over 65 years of age, advises the NHS.

“If you’re worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and perhaps suggest that you go with them,” says the health body.

As it explains, the GP can do some simple checks to try to find out the cause of your symptoms and may refer you to a specialist for further tests.

Can I reduce my risk of DLB?

There’s currently no cure for dementia with Lewy bodies or any treatment that will slow it down.

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There are some lifestyle factors that may raise your risk, however.

Conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol are risk factors for other causes of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, there is some evidence to suggest this may also be true for DLB.

“If you have concerns, you can speak to your doctor about managing these conditions,” says the charity.

General tips for maintaining heart health include:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control
  • Be active and exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet
  • Drink fewer than 14 units of alcohol per week.

Curiously, prior caffeine use and history of cancer were associated with a reduced likelihood of an eventual DLB diagnosis in one study.

Prior diagnoses of anxiety and depression were more likely to be present in subjects diagnosed with DLB compared with controls, the research found.

A family history may also influence your risk of developing DLB.

Recent studies have found several genes linked to a higher risk of DLB, including a known risk gene for Alzheimer’s.

“While these discoveries help us to understand the biology of DLB, having one of these risk genes does not mean you will definitely develop the disease,” explains Alzheimer’s Research UK.

There is no test available on the NHS for these genes.

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