authors: Dr Greg Elder, Dr Daniel Rippon and Prof Jason Ellis

Project background

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is the second most common type of dementia. DLB is a complex and heterogenous disorder, which is characterised by a range of symptoms, including neuropsychiatric symptoms, visuoperceptual difficulties and visual hallucinations.

The challenging, complex and symptom profile of people with DLB can have a significant impact upon their caregivers. DLB places a significant level of burden upon caregivers, and DLB caregivers typically report greater levels of distress than the caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), or other types of dementia, even when DLB patients have a similar level of cognitive impairment. This has been shown to relate to the presence and severity of patient symptoms.

Caregiver distress is extremely likely to result in DLB caregivers developing sleep disturbances and disorders. A wide range of studies have indicated that stress is associated with subjective and objective sleep disturbances, and that stressful events can predict future sleep disturbances. Indeed, work from dementia caregivers, considered as a whole, demonstrates this: relative to age-matched control non-caregiver adults, caregivers have significant reductions in sleep duration (equivalent to losing up to 3.5 hours of sleep per week) and sleep quality. Additionally, even professional dementia caregivers demonstrate increased levels of stress hormones.

To date, no studies have specifically assessed sleep in DLB caregivers, or the relationship with stress and patient neuropsychiatric symptoms. This is extremely important as given the complex and challenging symptom profile of DLB, DLB caregivers are likely to be at a high risk of developing sleep disturbances and disorders. This is likely to have a direct negative impact upon their health.

Taken together, it is important to understand the nature of sleep disturbances in DLB caregivers. In particular, it is necessary to identify patient events or stressors which may negatively impact upon specific aspects of caregiver subjective and objective sleep. This will allow for the development and testing of bespoke DLB caregiver sleep interventions. This is important as techniques which optimise sleep in this population will benefit individual caregivers, as well as potentially having wider economic and societal benefits.

What is the goal of the proposed PhD Project

The goals of this PhD project are to:

  1. to examine, quantify, and compare the nature of subjective and objective sleep disturbances in DLB and AD caregivers
  2. to examine the association between specific patient neuropsychiatric symptoms and DLB caregivers
  3. design a bespoke DLB-specific caregiver intervention to improve sleep, and pilot and test its feasibility and effectiveness

This proposed studentship is very closely aligned with Dr. Elder’s current research programme, which is primarily focussed on subjective and objective sleep in patients with dementia with Lewy bodies.

What skills and knowledge does the PhD candidate need?

We are looking for an applicant who is passionate about clinically-applied sleep research. Given the novel nature of the project, you should demonstrate a high degree of professionalism and independence. You should possess a solid understanding of quantitative research methods and be willing to be trained in a variety of advanced sleep research methodologies (e.g. actigraphy, polysomnography).

Applicants will normally have a track record of academic achievement in psychology or a related discipline, demonstrated by a first class or upper second undergraduate honours degree and/or a master’s degree (or equivalent)

About the supervisors

Dr. Greg Elder is Associate Director of Northumbria Sleep Research and is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology. He is an experienced sleep researcher with expertise in the design, conduct and management of sleep research studies, including overnight polysomnography. Dr. Elder also has a wide range of expertise in designing and managing research studies involving patients with dementia with Lewy bodies, including interventional studies and clinical trials; additionally, he has expertise in the role of stress in sleep disturbances and insomnia, and behavioural interventions in this context. Dr. Elder is a Chartered Psychologist.

Dr. Daniel Rippon is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology. He has expertise in the design and conduct of research studies involving dementia caregivers. Dr. Rippon also has relevant clinical and research links with the Campus of Ageing and Vitality (Newcastle University), where he has developed a home-based service for supporting caregivers, and has clinical experience working within the NHS.

Professor Jason Ellis is Director of Northumbria Sleep Research and is a Professor of Sleep Science in the Department of Psychology. Professor Ellis has a wide range of expertise in the development and testing of behavioural interventions for insomnia.

More information and how to apply

If you would like to discuss the opportunity, please contact the principal supervisor by email (Dr. Greg Elder: g.elder@northumbria.ac.uk).

Details on how to submit an application are below. We’ve added some useful reading for prospective candidates at the end of the post

The advert for the post can be found here, this includes full eligibility requirements. As part of the application process you will need to submit a 1000 word proposal of how you would approach the project by 18th February 2022

Full details of the application process can be found here

Further Reading

Rippon, D., McDonnell, A., Bristow, M., Smith, M., McCreadie, M. & Wetherell, M., (2021), Elevated Levels of Hair Cortisol Concentrations in Professional Dementia Caregivers, Stress.

Elder, G.J., Colloby, S.J., Firbank, M.J., McKeith, I.G., Taylor, J-P (2019). Consecutive sessions of transcranial direct current stimulation do not remediate visual hallucinations in Lewy body dementia: a randomised controlled trial. Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, 11 (1), 9.

Elder, G.J., Colloby, S.J., Rowan, E.N., Lett, D., O’Brien, J.T., Anderson, K.N., Burn, D.J., McKeith, I.G & Taylor, J-P (2016). Depressive symptoms are associated with daytime sleepiness and subjective sleep quality in dementia with Lewy bodies. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 31 (7), 765 – 70.

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