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23 June 2020

Does long-term poor sleep contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease?

We caught up with Jana Thomas of Radboud University Medical Centre to find out more about the bidirectional relationship between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.

Can you tell us more about yourself and your research group?

I am in my final PhD year at Radboud University Medical Centre. In the department of geriatric medicine, we are all working on different aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. Our focus is modifiable lifestyle factors such as blood pressure, exercise, and sleep to prevent the development or progression of the disease.

What is the rationale behind your study?

Recent evidence suggest that there is a bi-directional relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and poor sleep, in which poor sleep is not just a symptom of the disease but could also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s through either less clearance of more production of a protein called amyloid-beta. Accumulation of this protein in the brain is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

In order to measure the effects of sleep disruption on Alzheimer-related cognitive decline, we recruited a cohort of shift workers. Our shift workers are maritime pilots, who work in irregular shifts resulting in serious distortion of sleep over a longer period of time (>10 years).

How is your study progressing?

We included 40 participants (20 maritime pilots & 20 controls) and finished all analyses last year (2019).

Why did you chose CANTAB for your research?

We used CANTAB because I was frustrated with the standard pen and paper tests, which are typically not very sensitive if you test young participants. Coming from a background of Neuropsychology, I was also very interested in applying this new and innovative technique in our study. Our participants are young and do not report cognitive complaints, so the tests had to be exciting and challenging. The level of difficulty of the CANTAB tests adjusts to the participant’s cognitive level, which makes the appearance of ceiling effects less likely.

Furthermore, I was happy that the exact same instructions were provided for each participant, as they are included in the battery. The fact that you can directly transfer the CANTAB results in to your statistical program of choice (e.g. SPSS) saves a lot of time.

What has been your experience of using CANTAB for your research?

I loved using it. It is so nice to have the instructions included in the test battery so the examination does not depend on the people who are administering it or your own state of mind as examiner. In a big study, for example, there can be a lot of variation in instructions, which leads to various uncontrollable factors in your study.

Furthermore, with pen and paper cognitive assessment, you sometimes create a very tense testing situation, which can put the participant under a lot of pressure, leading to less reliable outcomes. With CANTAB however, it is more fun for the participant because you create a more gamified situation. I also saved a lot of time because I did not have to export all the results by hand into the electrical dossiers or statistical program. I have not used the normative data set yet but this is a great opportunity in the future to further validate your results.

Tags : cantab testimonial | cantab | cognitive testing

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Jana Thomas, PhD student at Radboud University Medical Centre