How Sleep Impacts the Aging Brain

The Relationship Between Sleep and Senior Brain Health

By Will Reid, 8:00 am on

Older adults need an average of six to eight hours of sleep each night to maintain optimal function and health. However, because of the effects of illness, certain medications, and the aches and pains of aging, many seniors have a hard time falling or staying asleep. With age, the body also produces less melatonin, a chemical in the brain that promotes healthy sleep. So what happens when your senior loved one isn’t able to get adequate sleep each night? Home Care Assistance of Cincinnati, OH shares the findings of recent research on the subject.

Research and Investigative Studies

According to research conducted by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, there is a clear connection between loss of sleep in seniors and the development of memory loss, cognitive difficulties, and even dementia. The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health, found that during sleep, short-term memories are transmitted from a part of the brain called the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, where long-term memories are stored. Seniors who are not getting the restorative sleep they need may find that they are becoming more forgetful.

Additional research published by the journal Neurology in 2014, found a link between poor sleep and decreasing brain volume. This “shrinking brain” phenomenon has a profound negative effect on decision making, emotions, mobility, memory, and learning. Another study, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen in 2014, suggests that while people sleep, the brain rids itself of certain compounds that may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Promote Nighttime Sleep

While scientists still don’t fully understand why sleep plays such an important role in brain health for seniors, ensuring that older adults get enough restorative sleep certainly plays an important role in helping preserve cognitive function well into the aging process. Family members and caregivers can help seniors sleep soundly by:

  • Discussing any sleep issues with his or her doctor to determine appropriate treatments
  • Reviewing medications with a medical professional to see if any are causing sleep disturbances
  • Creating a soothing nighttime routine that helps the senior wind down
  • Making sure the bedroom is comfortable, dark, and ready for rest
  • Getting help from a part-time caregiver to assist with good sleep routines

Research shows there is a strong link between sleep and brain health, so make sure your loved one has the right resources and support systems in place to get a good night’s sleep! To learn more about brain health, reach out to the Cincinnati dementia care specialists at Home Care Assistance and learn more about our in-home care plans. Call 513-891-2273 and request a complimentary, no-obligation consultation with an experienced Care Manager.

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