Sleep and Dementia – the importance of getting those zzzz’s in!

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There has been a lot in the media about research on sleep and dementia. I recently heard a talk from Rachel McGuiness at my Athena network who is a sleep expert. Everyone was engaged with and thoroughly enjoyed her fascinating presentation because, honestly, who hasn’t had periods in their life when sleep was hard to come by? Please read this post from Rachel and contact her if you need further information/advice…

Sleep to keep your brain healthy

I’m not an expert on dementia but I am an expert on sleep, and we know that lack of sleep can lead to a great many health issues: researchers have recently established a strong link between lack of sleep and the likelihood of developing dementia.

We spend a third of our life asleep, so by the age of 75 you will have spent about 25 years asleep!

Why do we need to sleep?

Sleep is crucial for our survival, we can survive three times longer without food than we can without sleep.  It is essential for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing as it maintains our brain, immune system, metabolism, blood pressure and hormones, it is also when the body gets to do its repairs to cells, tissues and muscles.

Our sleep is broken down into 90 minute cycles in which we go through four different stages of sleep – very light, light, deep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.  During deep sleep is when brain and body maintenance takes place – this equates to only about 20% of our night’s sleep.  To ensure that this happens effectively, we need to have good quality uninterrupted sleep for between four and six cycles each night, which is around six to nine hours.

Deep sleep is the only time the brain can detox itself and get rid of the build-up of toxins it has accumulated during the day.   As you know the body has the lymphatic system to clear out toxins through sweat, but what is amazing is that the brain has its own dedicated cleaning system called the glymphatic system.  Our brain cells shrink by up to 60% to allow space to make it easier for cerebral spinal fluid to shampoo and rinse away the build-up of a sticky toxic protein called beta-amyloid; it’s the brain’s equivalent of a daily refuse collection.

We’ve all experienced a bad night’s sleep where we’ve woken up with a foggy head, can’t focus or concentrate and feel irritable during the day, this is because our brain hasn’t been able to detox.  But when we catch up with our sleep, we feel so much better and get back to normal.  Continual sleep disruption or bad quality sleep will increase the risk of dementia, as the build-up of the sticky protein will turn to plaque and start to kill neurons in the brain.

As a modern society, we are sleeping less than we should with over 70% of adults having some form of sleep problems. When we don’t get sufficient sleep, or we disturb our sleep patterns, we don’t give our brains enough time to complete its proper cleaning system.

There is, however, a difference between these occasional times where we don’t sleep well and continual poor quality sleep. When this happens, the body’s glymphatic system really struggles to do its job, the brain’s clean up system fails and the rubbish begins to build up and it becomes increasingly difficult for the brain to function either correctly or at its full potential.

What can you do to ensure you get a better night’s sleep?

  1. Switch off your tech at least an hour before bedtime to reduce your exposure to blue light from your devices which wake you when you should be getting sleepy.
  2. Wind down in the evening so that you’re relaxed and ready to go to bed – keep the lights low, listen to soothing music, have a bath or read a book; anything that is going to soothe and relax you and not stimulate or stress you.
  3. De-stress – get your worries, stresses and to do lists out of your head and onto paper so that you have nothing to ruminate on if you wake up in the night.
  4. Have a consistent bedtime and wake up time – your brain likes routine, and gets confused if your timings are inconsistent, which is why you start to suffer from social jetlag and don’t want to get up in the mornings and feel permanently jaded.
  5. Keep your bedroom a bedroom – it should be clean, tidy, cool, dark and airy; and should only be used for two things, sex and sleep; and not a part time office.


Rachel McGuinness from Wake Up With Zest is the ‘Go To Sleep Expert’ who helps busy people who suffer from short or long term sleep issues get a good night’s sleep. Follow this link to find out more:

Funding for Health and Social Care

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At the Westminster Health Forum in January the topic was “Next steps for improving dementia care: funding, reducing variations  and implementing the 2020 Challenge” . Carer and Research Network volunteer from the Alzheimer’s Society, Andrew Cornwall, spoke eloquently about the cuts and in particular short term contracts staff in the voluntary sector seem to be increasingly  employed under. The evil of the short term contract is covered in my post about Vibrant Manchester so  I was glad to hear it raised very publicly and added my own voice to the points made.

Surrey also featured during the forum, which was of great interest to me, as that is where I live. The funding cuts here and across Surrey have been catastrophic as the borough tries to claw back money from its deficit (something that warranted a special mention in the House of Commons pre Budget debate yesterday). It is not surprising that Richmond is so badly affected – house prices have risen so steeply that even the council’s website concedes that young people cannot afford to buy here. So we naturally have a huge population of older people. At the Joint Carers meeting in February organised by Rare Dementia UK, a gentleman highlighted the fact that the carers grant introduced under the Care Act 2014 was an easy pot of money to access three years ago in Richmond, now, he has been told, it is virtually non existent. Other carers gave examples of inconsistent access to services form across the country such as care co-ordinators and Dementia Advisors. Even when there is money for services there is no guarantee that people living with dementia can confidently rely on their long term continuity.

So has the Budget improved anything or given us hope? The chancellor has ring fenced £2billion to cover the cracks, is it enough? Nigel Edwards, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust think-tank, stated:

“The £2 billion announced for social care over the next three years is welcome and desperately needed. But the £1 billion share of that cash promised for next year will plug only half of the funding gap we’ve identified for that year.”

The Conservatives also promised that councils and NHS Trusts which are under severe pressure will be identified and supported. Many are asking whether the social care crisis has actually been exacerbated by the Tories, would we have fared better under Labour? We shall see what the next few years bring but you know what they say, no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.


Paying for Care scare stories

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There has been a great deal of coverage in the media this past week about care home fees. Whilst I understand the frustration people feel about their inheritance being eaten up whilst others have their care home fees fully paid by the local authority, there is a lot of misinformation floating around. For example, in The Times today, the claim that 50,000 people are being ‘forced’ to pay top up fees where the local authority funded contribution is not enough to cover their monthly care home bills. No-one can be ‘forced’ to pay a top up. People pay a top up when they choose a home that is more expensive than the local authority budget allows. Someone is only going to be being paid for by the local authority because they have less than £23,250 so where are they paying this top up from? They are not paying it, their family is agreeing to pay it as the top up has to be a sustainable contribution before it can be agreed.

Yesterday I watched a news article which claimed  couple had been forced to sell their home so that they could live in a care home together. In fact the Care Act confers upon local authorities the obligation to offer people moving into care a deferred payment on their home so that it does not need to be immediately sold and can be rented out to cover some of the care home fees. The local authority will place a charge against the property and eventually take back their money when it is sold sometime in the future. If the partner had remained at home the house would have been completely disregarded.

This kind of reporting feeds into people’s fears and insecurities about the whole paying for care system, and gets right on my pip. Let’s have a proper debate with facts, not scare stories!


Dementia Awareness Week (DAW)

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I recently started working at the Alzheimer’s Society 2 days a week as their Dementia Action Alliance Co-Ordinator for Ealing – a great opportunity to support a fantastic team who are working to make Ealing a dementia friendly community. As part of DAW we visited the Southall Town Hall and spoke to the women at the film group there about dementia and answered questions about memory loss and local services.

In addition to this I went with Pathways to the launch of the new Liss Dementia Café where I spoke to people about planning ahead for dementia. They had Singing for the Brain and massage for people with dementia plus stands run by Alzheimer’s Society and St James’ Place Wealth Management.

Today People Management magazine printed an Opinion piece we had collaborated on which highlights the work of our charity and that of Dementia Carer Friendly Workplaces. To read more see here (unfortunately the dreaded ‘sufferer’ snuck in without me realising – apologies!) :

Hopefully this will successfully highlight our and Mary Sherwood’s valuable work which aims to support working carers and HR departments that strive to reduce stress amongst their workforce.