While changes to our sleep patterns occur naturally as we get older, scientists are discovering links between changes to sleep and senior cognitive decline, dementia, and memory impairment. Released in Nature Neuroscience, the study conducted by neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley found that age-related deterioration of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain was associated with a failure to obtain the type of deep, slow-wave sleep which helps the brain consolidate memories and information in seniors.
According to the National Institutes of Health, not only do people get less deep sleep as they age, they are also more susceptible to disruptions to their sleep schedule, suffer from sleep apnea and insomnia, or develop movement disorders like restless leg syndrome that prevents them from obtaining a good night’s rest. Scientists are now learning that some of these sleep disruptions correlate with impaired cognition and, in some cases, the later onset of dementia.
It is important there is not a direct link between Alzheimer’s and sleep. The interactions between cognitive impairment and sleep are complex, and there are a variety of factors which cause changes in sleep patterns as our loved one's age.
In order to create an optimal sleep environment and promote rest for a person with Alzheimer’s:
- Establish a routine that sets up regular times for eating throughout the day, sleeping at night, and getting up in the morning
- Exposure to the morning sunlight
- Exercise daily, but not later than four hours before bedtime
- Treat any pain
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
- Ensure the bedroom temperature is comfortable
- If the individual wakes up, discourage staying in bed while awake
- Avoid watching television during periods of wakefulness
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