Study: Poor Sleep Affects Memory in Baby Boomers, Seniors

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You've heard people of various age groups laughingly refer to an occasional memory lapse as "having a senior moment." The humor of such a situation decreases proportionately with either increase in age or increase in such lapses -- or both. As scientists endeavor to discover the reason for poorer memory as we age, a small study concluded that poor sleep is one such cause.

University of California, Berkeley Research Revealed Disrupted Sleep Impacts Memory Storage

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley developed a small study that had 33 healthy participants, 18 of whom were in their 20s and 15 of whom were in their 60s and 70s. Each participant learned 120 word pairs and were asked to recall them first 10 minutes later, then after a night's rest. The older participants' ability to recall the learned word pairs the next morning were 55 percent less accurate than that of their younger counterparts. Scans of brain activity through the night revealed that the older participants quality of sleep was 75 percent less than the younger individuals.

The brain scans of the older participants showed that disrupted NREM waves, the prequel to REM waves -- those of deepest sleep -- impact the exchange of information from the brain's temporary storehouse, the hippocampus, to the long-term memory center of the pre-frontal cortex. This involves the patchy development of short-term or acute memories, rather than long-term memory.

Potential for Treatment of Disrupted Sleep, Short-Term Memory Loss

Matthew Walker, one of this sleep study's authors and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley explained to ScienceDaily.com, "What we have discovered is a dysfunctional pathway that helps explain the relationship between brain deterioration, sleep disruption and memory loss as we get older -- and with that, a potentially new treatment avenue."

The scientific community has understood for some time that sleep strengthens newly formed memories; this study demonstrated which mechanism(s) are disrupted in older adults that affect this formation.

Additional Research Into Older Adults and Memory Impairment

The Oct. 18, 2012, Nature.com news reported on a study done in Canada that suggests changes in sleeping patterns, including less night-time sleeping and naps during the days that can stretch to three hours in length may be early warning signs of Alzheimer's disease.

A research study published Monday in Nature.com explores the relationship of the hippocampus to memory and navigation.

Bottom Line

A treatment for both poor sleep in older adults and renewing the natural pathway of memory development would be welcomed by aging America. Successful treatment of short-term memory lapses could easily have a positive impact on baby boomers and seniors being able to continue working into later years, beginning new second careers, allowing them to be more successful academically and even to age in place at home for longer periods of time.

One thing we can count on in capitalistic America is this: If there is money to be made from a product or service, there will be money available to develop same. With 74 million baby boomers on or at the threshold of retirement, there would be a ready market available.

Smack dab in the middle of the baby boomer generation, L.L. Woodard is a proud resident of "The Red Man" state. With what he hopes is an everyman's view of life's concerns both in his state and throughout the nation, Woodard presents facts and opinions based on common-sense solutions.

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