The value of REM sleep parameters in differentiating Alzheimer's disease from old-age depression and normal aging

Petra Dykierek*, G. Stadtmüller, P. Schramm, M. Bahro, D. Van Calker, D. F. Braus, P. Steigleider, H. Löw, F. Hohagen, W. F. Gattaz, M. Berger, D. Riemann

*Corresponding author for this work
50 Citations (Scopus)


Pseudodementia as a common trait in elderly depressives presents a major problem in gerontopsychiatry, especially for the differential diagnosis between Old-Age Depression (OAD) and Dementia of the Alzheimer Type (DAT). The present poly-somnographic study examined parameters of sleep continuity, sleep architecture, and REM sleep to differentiate DAT from OAD. The investigation was based on the theoretical framework of the cholinergic-aminergic imbalance model of depression, the cholinergic deficit hypothesis of Alzheimer's disease and the reciprocal interaction model of Non-REM/REM sleep regulation, according to which REM sleep parameters should have high discriminative value to differentiate OAD and DAT. We investigated 35 DAT patients, 39 OAD patients and 42 healthy controls for two consecutive nights in the sleep laboratory. The DAT patients were in relatively early/mild stages of the disease, the severity of depression in the OAD group was moderate to severe. Depressed patients showed characteristic 'depression-like' EEG sleep alterations, i.e. a lower sleep efficiency, a higher amount of nocturnal awakenings and decreased sleep stage 2. Sleep continuity and architecture in DAT was less disturbed. Nearly all REM sleep measures differentiated significantly between the diagnostic groups. OAD patients showed a shortened REM latency, increased REM density and a high rate of Sleep Onset REM periods (SOREM), whereas in DAT REM density was decreased in comparison to control subjects. REM latency in DAT was not prolonged as expected. To assess the discriminative power of REM sleep variables a series of discriminant analyses were conducted. Overall, 86% of patients were correctly classified, using REM density and REM latency measures. Our findings suggest that REM density as an indicator of phasic activity appears to be more sensitive as a biological marker for the differential diagnosis of OAD and DAT than REM latency. The results support the role of central cholinergic neurotransmission in REM sleep regulation and the pathogenesis of DAT and OAD.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 01.1998

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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