A new study may prove why the ability to remember newly learned information declines with age, with sleep being a surprising, but important, connecting factor, according to The New York Times’ article, Aging in Brain Found to Hurt Sleep Needed for Memory.
The research, posted online by the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggests brain changes that naturally occur over time interfere with sleep quality. It’s the sleep quality interference that affects an individual’s ability to store memories.
“Previous research had found that the prefrontal cortex, the brain region behind the forehead, tends to lose volume with age, and that part of this region helps sustain quality sleep, which is critical to consolidating new memories. But the new experiment, led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, is the first to directly link structural changes with sleep-related memory problems.”
With this newfound information, we now know that one way to slow memory decline in older adults is to improve sleep and sleeping habits. The slow-wave phase, which makes up about one quarter of a night’s sleep, is the specific area that needs improvement.
How Caretakers Can Help
This study shows the importance of sleep, but how can you help your parents improve their sleeping and, hopefully, improve their memory? With schedules. A regular schedule is imperative to healthy sleep cycles, and as this research proves, is especially important to the elderly. Talk with your parents about a set time to wake up and a set time to go to sleep. Some people are night owls, while others are early risers. What is important is to consistently do what works best for the individual. And a little sleeping in never hurts.
Another way that sleep can be improved is through exercise. We all know that you never sleep better than after you’ve had a great workout. Encourage your parents to take a daily walk, even if it begins as a short stroll around the block. Getting just a small amount of exercise is better than nothing, and will help them stick to a normal bedtime and wake-up time.
We help maintain schedules and encourage walks with our elderly patients. Not only is it good for a conversation, but it encourages physical activity and routine so they can sleep soundly and retain a healthy memory. If you would like us to discuss your elderly parent’s routine, we can talk today about how we can help.