Cognitive decline in old age related to poorer sleep

February, 2013

A new study confirms the role slow-wave sleep plays in consolidating memories, and reveals that one reason for older adults’ memory problems may be the quality of their sleep.

Recent research has suggested that sleep problems might be a risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s, and in mild cognitive impairment. A new study adds to this gathering evidence by connecting reduced slow-wave sleep in older adults to brain atrophy and poorer learning.

The study involved 18 healthy young adults (mostly in their 20s) and 15 healthy older adults (mostly in their 70s). Participants learned 120 word- nonsense word pairs and were tested for recognition before going to bed. Their brain activity was recorded while they slept. Brain activity was also measured in the morning, when they were tested again on the word pairs.

As has been found previously, older adults showed markedly less slow-wave activity (both over the whole brain and specifically in the prefrontal cortex) than the younger adults. Again, as in previous studies, the biggest difference between young and older adults in terms of gray matter volume was found in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Moreover, significant differences were also found in the insula and posterior cingulate cortex. These regions, like the mPFC, have also been associated with the generation of slow waves.

When mPFC volume was taken into account, age no longer significantly predicted the extent of the decline in slow-wave activity — in other words, the decline in slow-wave activity appears to be due to the brain atrophy in the medial prefrontal cortex. Atrophy in other regions of the brain (precuneus, hippocampus, temporal lobe) was not associated with the decline in slow-wave activity when age was considered.

Older adults did significantly worse on the delayed recognition test than young adults. Performance on the immediate test did not predict performance on the delayed test. Moreover, the highest performers on the immediate test among the older adults performed at the same level as the lowest young adult performers — nevertheless, these older adults did worse the following day.

Slow-wave activity during sleep was significantly associated with performance on the next day’s test. Moreover, when slow-wave activity was taken into account, neither age nor mPFC atrophy significantly predicted test performance.

In other words, age relates to shrinkage of the prefrontal cortex, this shrinkage relates to a decline in slow-wave activity during sleep, and this decline in slow-wave sleep relates to poorer cognitive performance.

The findings confirm the importance of slow-wave brainwaves for memory consolidation.

All of this suggests that poorer sleep quality contributes significantly to age-related cognitive decline, and that efforts should be made to improve quality of sleep rather than just assuming lighter, more disturbed sleep is ‘natural’ in old age!

Reference: 

Related News

Brain scans of 9,772 people aged 44 to 79, who were enrolled in the UK Biobank study, have revealed that smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, and high BMI — but not high cholesterol — were all linked to greater brain shrinkage, less

A large Chinese study involving 20,000 people has found that the longer people were exposed to air pollution, the worse their cognitive performance in verbal and math tests. The effect of air pollution on verbal tests became more pronounced with age, especially for men and the less educated.

A review of 34 longitudinal studies, involving 71,244 older adults, has concluded that depression is associated with greater cognitive decline.

A study following nearly 28,000 older men for 20 years has found that regular consumption of leafy greens, dark orange and red vegetables and berry fruits, and orange juice, was associated with a lower risk of memory loss.

Poor sleep has been associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease, and this has been thought to be in part because the protein amyloid beta increases with sleep deprivation. A new study explains more.

A small study has found that a 12-week exercise program significantly improved cognition in both older adults with

A clinical trial involving 9361 older adults (50+) with hypertension but without diabetes or history of stroke has found that intensive control of blood pressure significantly reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.

Survey data from 6,807 Danish older adults (average age 60) in the Copenhagen City Heart Study, has found that being distressed in late midlife is associated with a higher risk of dementia in later life.

Poor sleep has been associated with Alzheimer's disease risk, but a new study suggests a specific aspect of sleep is important.

Data from 1,215 older adults, of whom 173 (14%) were African-American, has found that, although brain scans showed no significant differences between black and white participants,

Pages

Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health newsSubscribe to Latest news