A recent study by the Taiwan Alzheimer’s Disease Association (TADA) concluded that elderly people who regularly take naps might have an increased risk of developing dementia, but some doctors have disputed the findings.
The study, titled Marital Status, Lifestyle and Dementia: A Nationwide Survey in Taiwan was conducted by doctors from En Chu Kong Hospital, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei Veterans General Hospital and the association.
The study used a random sample of 10,432 people above aged 65 in 19 counties, and asked participants to fill out a questionnaire and undergo an interview between December 2011 and March 2013.
The prevalence of dementia among widows and widowers was higher by a factor of 1.42, while the prevalence of dementia among people who nap in the afternoon is higher by a factor of 1.33, the study showed.
“Our results provide preliminary evidence of behaviors that might reduce the risk of developing dementia, including regular exercise — even in modest amounts — social engagement and a good night’s sleep, whereas people whose spouse has died or who regularly take afternoon naps might have increased risk of developing dementia,” the study said.
The study was published last month in the online peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE from the Public Library of Science.
En Chu Kong Hospital Neurology Department doctor and contributing author to the study Sun Yu (孫瑜) was quoted in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) as saying that taking afternoon naps indicates that a person might not be sleeping enough at night, or has had bad quality sleep, and when people are drowsy in the daytime, it can affect their emotions, leading to people being less willing to think, exercise or participate in social activities.
However, the Liberty Times report quotes Sun as saying that other studies have concluded that taking naps might prevent dementia, so it could be that taking naps of longer than one hour might have a negative effect.
Asked to comment on the study, Taiwan Adventist Hospital neurologist Chen Yun-chung (陳允中) said the study only shows that a higher percentage of elderly people who suffer from dementia take naps, but that does not mean that taking naps leads to a higher risks of dementia.
“When degeneration of the brain cells reaches the hypothalamus, it can cause disruptions to the person’s circadian rhythms. People who have Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease might have damage to the hypothalamus affecting their sleep,” Chen said.
He said taking naps for more than one hour might only be a warning signal of brain degeneration, and suggested that keeping a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly, using the brain to read, travel or participate in recreational games can help delay brain degeneration.
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