Inadequate Sleep Leads to Rapid Brain Aging in Older Adults

Exhausted older manAccording to the Alzheimer’s Association, about half of people over age 85 develop Alzheimer’s. With seniors older than 65 projected to make up nearly 20% of the population by 2020, researchers are increasingly interested in slowing the aging process. A new study has found that, among older adults, there may be a connection between low-quality sleep and faster aging of the brain.

Older Adults and Sleep

The research team gathered data from the Singapore Longitudinal Aging Brain Study, which evaluated 66 Chinese seniors. Researchers measured the subjects’ brain volume using MRI scans and administered tests of cognitive functioning every two years. They found that adults who spent less time sleeping each night showed faster declines in cognitive functioning. They also had more rapid ventricle enlargement. The brain’s ventricles tend to increase in size over time due to a loss of cells, so ventricle enlargement is one way to measure how quickly the brain is aging.

Dr. June Lo, the study’s lead author, points to previous research on adequate sleep for older adults. Data collected by Lumosity, a popular web-based brain training game, examined test scores in 150,000 adults. That data suggest that seven hours is the ideal amount of time for older adults to sleep. 

Slowing the Aging Process

A variety of factors cause the brain to age, but lifestyle choices can help slow the process. In addition to getting adequate sleep, previous research has shown that the following steps can reduce brain aging:

  • Get plenty of exercise. Physical activity can help slow a host of mental and physical symptoms associated with aging.
  • Stay active and social. Friendship keeps your mind active and may help slow the aging process.
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress, since stress can destroy brain development.
  • Keep your brain active by reading, playing an instrument, learning a new language, or playing brain training games. Recent research has found that people who stay intellectually active are less likely to develop dementia.

References:

  1. Aging statistics. (n.d.). Administration on Aging. Retrieved from http://www.aoa.gov/Aging_Statistics/
  2. Alzheimer’s and dementia risk factors. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp
  3.  Beck, J. (2014, June 24). Study: An Intellectual Life Could Protect Against Dementia. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://m.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/study-an-intellectual-life-could-protect-against-dementia/373304/
  4.  The aging brain. (2011, December 05). The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-aging-brain/2011/12/05/gIQAskhDWO_graphic.html
  5.  The less older adults sleep, the faster their brains age, new study suggests. (2014, July 1). Science Daily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140701091458.htm
  6.  The nervous system in old age. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/aging.html

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  • Penelope

    Penelope

    July 3rd, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    Is there really anything that is going to be made worse by commiting to getting a good night’s rest? Don’t think so.

  • George

    George

    July 4th, 2014 at 6:40 AM

    As I have gotten older I find it harder and harder to get a good night’s sleep and even as hard as I try it often never happens. So it is through no fault of my own that the brain could be aging much faster than what I would desire, but you just kind of run out of options on how to actually get a full night’s rest anymore.

  • deb

    deb

    July 6th, 2014 at 5:36 AM

    Patients who are going through this sometimes have an even more difficult time resting without medication to help them and this can leave them feeling even mroe drugged and confused. So this can only add to the additional brain aging that they have been experiencing, because it seems that once this cycle of poor sleep begins it is difficult for any of us to shake and break that cycle of difficulty.

  • Joshua

    Joshua

    July 9th, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    If you have an older adult in your life that you care about the best thing that you can do for them is to help keep them active.
    You let them slow down and they deteriorate so quickly, but those who stay active for as long as possible have a much greater chance of seeing a ripe and productive old age.

  • legan

    legan

    July 10th, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    The earlier this begins the worse the outcome is going to be too, so think about that the next time your sleep patterns get way off kilter and you fail to do anything about it.
    If this is a consistent problem for you then you need to talk to someone who can help you set your mind at ease and relax back into normal sleep patterns.
    Even those who are the most intelligent people in the world can have sleep deprivation and for most of us it only gets worse as we age. And apparnetly we are inflicting a great deal of damage on the brain over the years if we let this go untreated.

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