Treatment of sleep disturbance in Alzheimer's disease

Author(s): McCurry SM, Reynolds CF, Ancoli-Israel S, Teri L, Vitiello MV


The prevalence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is rapidly increasing as growing numbers of people around the world are living to old age. Sleep disturbances are a common, and often highly disruptive, behavioral symptom associated with AD. Nevertheless, the study of sleep in AD is relatively new. Little is known about the moderating factors that may alter a given patient's risk for developing sleep problems, or that may influence severity of presentation and persistence. Current treatments for improving sleep in AD fall into three broad categories: (i) pharmacological; (ii) cognitive-behavioral or psycho-educational strategies; and (iii) biological/circadian therapies. There are few studies demonstrating the efficacy of these treatments with community-dwelling AD patients, although studies with persons in institutional settings are promising. In this review, it is suggested that sleep problems in AD are multi-factorial, and influenced by a variety of demographic, physical, psychiatric and situational factors. These factors vary in how readily they can be modified and in how relevant they are to any individual case. Thus, when developing a treatment plan for sleep problems in a dementia patient, it is important to evaluate the underlying causes as well as the context in which the problems are occurring, and to target the intervention accordingly.

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