New Project to Study Link Between Sleep and Cognitive Decline

Alzheimer’s disease
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The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is projected to triple by 2050. A $3 million grant from the National Institute of Aging (NIA) will fund Penn State researchers to study the relationship between sleep and cognitive decline and impairment.

The project will build upon the Einstein Aging Study (EAS) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The EAS focuses on the aging brain, examining both normal aging and the predictors of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and is also supported by a grant from NIA.

According to co-principal investigator Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health and director of the Sleep, Health & Society Collaboratory at Penn State, the EAS includes cognitive assessments on 500 individuals over age 70, along with their medical history and cardiovascular risks.

“We’re adding ecologically valid measures of sleep to this study to determine how sleep is associated with cognitive decline,” said Buxton.

Sleep disorders are common among older individuals and previous research suggests that disturbed sleep may be a precursor of cognitive decline.

“Our project will add daily measures of sleep health with data collected via wrist monitors along with self-reported sleep quality and daytime alertness, as well as measurements of overnight oxygen desaturation, to this longitudinal study of community based older adults,” said Buxton, who also is a co-funded faculty member of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI). The data collection will take place over the course of two weeks each year of the four-year project.

It will be the first study to repeatedly assess sleep health and cognitive performance using this type of measurement in older adults, and the first to link these to daily measures of cognition collected using Ecological Momentary Assessments on a smart phone. This collection tool was developed by co-investigator Marty Sliwinski, also co-principal investigator of the EAS and director of the Center for Healthy Aging.

“The study will clarify how changes in sleep health are associated with cognitive decline on a daily basis and over time, and we’ll be able to assess both short-term and long-term effects,” Buxton explained.

The researchers are hopeful that the study will inform targeted early interventions aimed at preventing or delaying cognitive decline by identifying the specific factors of sleep and cognitive performance that are most closely related to cognitive decline.

Buxton’s Facilitated Research Award from SSRI supported the sleep data collection necessary for the project’s baseline data over the previous year.

Other researchers on the project include Carol Derby, research professor, and Richard Lipton, professor, both at Albert Einstein College of Medicine; and Suzie Bertisch, assistant professor in medicine, Harvard Medical School.