Original article| Volume 40, ISSUE 4, P259-270, August 15, 1996

Circadian rest—activity rhythm disturbances in alzheimer's disease

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      Previous studies showed circadian rhythm disturbances in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Rest-activity rhythm disturbances manifest themselves through a fragmentation of the rhythm, a weak coupling with Zeitgebers, and high levels of activity during the night. The aim of the present study was to investigate which factors contribute to the presence of these disturbances. Therefore, several rest-activity rhythm, constitutional, and environmental variables were assessed in a heterogeneous group of 34 patients with Alzheimer's disease, including presenile and senile patients living at home or in a nursing home, as well as in 11 healthy controls. Circadian rest-activity rhythm disturbances were most prominent in institutionalized patients. Regression analyses showed the involvement of the following variables. First stability of the rest-activity rhythm is associated with high levels of daytime activity and high levels of environmental light resulting from seasonal effects as well as from indoor illumination. Presenile onset contributed to instability of the rhythm. Second, fragmentation of periods of activity and rest is associated with low levels of daytime activity, and is most prominent in moderately severe dementia. Third, night-time activity level is higher during the times of the year when the days are getting shorter and lower when the days are growing longer. These findings indicate that rest-activity rhythm disturbances may improve by increasing environmental light and daytime activity, an assumption for which empirical evidence has recently been published.


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