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Dementia caregiving takes toll on sleep

By Reuters - Aug 25,2019 - Last updated at Aug 25,2019

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Family caregivers for dementia patients don’t sleep as long or as well as other adults of the same age, a new study suggests. 

In an analysis of the combined data from 35 earlier studies, researchers found that dementia caregivers slept about three hours less per week than age-matched adults, according to the report published in JAMA Network Open. 

“Sleep debt is known to have cumulative associations with physical, mental and cognitive health,” the researchers, led by Chenlu Gao wrote. “Therefore, poor sleep quality in dementia caregivers should be recognised and addressed.” 

To take a closer look at the impact of caregiving on sleep, the Gao and her colleagues scoured the medical literature for research on the topic. 

The combined studies included information on 3,268 caregivers, 76.7 per cent of whom were women. When compared to age-matched non-caregiving adults, caregivers slept less — by an average of 2.42 hours to 3.5 hours per week — and had poorer sleep quality, including more difficulty falling asleep and disturbed sleep. 

Those studies showed that poor sleep could, indeed, be improved. 

Bad sleep can lead to a host of health problems, Stephen Smagula, an assistant professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh said. “If you’re losing a lot of sleep over a long period of time, you are at higher risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, diabetes.” 

The new study “was not at all surprising” to Katherine Ornstein, an assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative care medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “We know caregivers are doing so much,” she said. “They are caring for children, working, dealing with financial stress, their own health. So, of course sleep would be impacted in some way.” 

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