Updated: Aug 22, 2021
If not, then it's past time to consider dementia prevention. Thanks to Slayers + Shakespeare.
Disclaimer: This site contains opinions based upon personal (not professional) experience. Before making any decisions about your own care, please discuss with your own trusted and licensed medical, legal, financial, psychological, trade, and spiritual advisors.
Today, let's start with a personal story and then transition into the scientific connections between sleep and dementia prevention.
In the early 2000s, about 15 years before dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, we sat together in the living room of the house he built for mom and I. It was around 10:00 am which did not seem significant at the time but, in hindsight, had his comment been acted upon, then perhaps we could have prevented his future dementia diagnosis.
Before you call BS, please hear me out. If nothing else, what do you have to lose?
He and Mom had just awoken and I was visiting from my own apartment about 30 minutes away so I asked as casual conversation: "Dad, what did you dream about last night?"
He yawned a bit and said: "Oh, I dunno. I don't remember."
Huh. This was unexpected. I had been living on my own a few years, but this response from him was a surprise since he would usually respond with something breezy even if not specific. Since we didn't typically talk about each other's dreams, perhaps he just hadn't had a chance to consider the question so I asked again: "You didn't dream? About anything?"
"No, not that I can recall."
Around this time, he also told me that he had lost interest in doing the daily crossword puzzle and Jumble in the newspaper which he had reliably done every week throughout his adult life. Suddenly, he says he's "bored with it." Verböten!
About a decade later, in 2016 (a year before dad died), I noticed that I was also no longer having dreams which was strange considering mine had been vivid my entire life. At the time, before we learned about the Bredesen protocol to dementia prevention, my own primary care doctor suggested that I get routine bloodwork to screen for vitamin deficiencies along with the same advice for dad from his neurologist. The result? We each had the same score: 19. Although D3 has no precise measurement to be considered ideal, this result is much too low and, the ongoing horror is real, that dad (then in his early 80s) had likely been living this way for decades without realizing it while own symptoms had begun to manifest as missing dreams in my mid-40s.
With what I know now, if I could time travel and return to the moment he stopped dreaming, it would have been to start an aggressive strategy to supplement his Vitamin D levels as here's where the science comes in: Healthy sleep is critical to avoid dementia (in part) as a cleaning mechanism (our glymphatic system) to remove excessive unhealthy proteins (beta-amyloid and tau) that tangle the neurons. Curiously, not everyone with these plaques or tangles develops dementia; however, they can be like evil Hallmark cards sent to the brain.
M'kay, but what does this have to do with dreams?
Let's break it down:
When we sleep the brain starts cleaning itself. Yep, the glymphatic system, as recently discovered (2015) by Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., DMSc and fellow Scoobies (researchers) at the University of Rochester and Dr. Helene Beneviste at Yale. Unfortunately, the central nervous system does not contain any lymph to help take out our bodily trash so that's why we need glymph since it's specific to these neural networks (pathways).
In fact, another reason why am advocating for DNA testing to sequence one's entire genome (as a one-time blood test for about $1,200) is because then you can meet with health care providers who are trained in the Bredesen protocol along with other researchers who will (if legit) continue citing peer-reviewed studies where they rip apart each other's results to then use this information to tailor precise treatments based upon known validated data (including supplements) based upon each individual's own DNA sequence rather than guesswork. Of course, what is known today can change tomorrow so here's Faith that it's the Mr. Pointy because our brains are at stake.
3. When we learned about Dr. Bredesen's research after dad died, Joyce* [warning: major Buffy TV show spoilers regarding her mom] and I started visiting Resilient Health Austin that specializes in providers trained in this prevention methodology. As a result, after DNA testing and having these outstanding physicians and their team to analyze our genetic pathways, I learned that I do not metabolize Vitamin D3; therefore, supplementation is critical. After I started taking 5,000 IUs of D3 a day, I am dreaming once again!
See the awesomeness that happens when one is not bound by 15-minute office visits and instead receives customized treatment based upon your own genetic pathways along with thoughtful medical providers trained in the latest scientific research? It's a medical marvel that must happen for ALL - before it's too late. DO NOT WAIT. There is no time except now.
*Sorry, not her real name.