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Excessive sleepiness may cause your brain to shrink as you age

Do you find yourself constantly drifting off to sleep during the day?

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota have found that cognitively normal older people who report excessive sleepiness during the day exhibit more brain atrophy than those people who don’t experience this type of fatigue.

Results based on data from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging

The results of the study came from data which was collected as part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, which involved 1374 cognitively normal older people aged over 50. The participants were asked to complete surveys about the periods of sleepiness and the level of fatigue they experienced. They were also given baseline structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The study used the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to define ‘sleepiness’ with excessive sleepiness being defined as 10 or more. The severity of fatigue was assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory-11.

May be clinical markers of accelerated ageing of the brain

From the study discovered that the brains of older people who reported feeling excessively sleepy during the day or who experienced significant fatigue, showed more atrophy than is normally expected for their age. This atrophy was also more significant in areas of the brain that are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. The study also concluded that people who reported excessive bouts of sleepiness or fatigue during the day, also reported more disturbances to their night-time sleep. Furthermore, they were also found to have significantly lower scores on cognitive tests and were more likely to have 2 or more concurrent morbid conditions or diseases.

May help to identify individuals at a higher risk for dementia

Lead author of the study, Diego Z. Carvalho, MD, has suggested that their results may assist in identifying those individuals who are at higher risk of developing dementia, prior to the onset of typical symptoms becoming apparent. This means that appropriate interventions could be taken earlier in order to prevent the usual progression to dementia.

Full results presented at SLEEP 2016 in Denver

The study abstract was published online in the journal Sleep and was presented at the 30th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, SLEEP 2016 in Denver.

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