Insomnia in the Elderly Is Often Eclipsed by Other Disorders But Recognizing It Can Help Resolve Comorbidities
Geriatric populations are simultaneously more likely to have insomnia and less likely to tell their medical team about it.
By Greg Thompson
Older adults tend to have multiple health concerns, and the question becomes: Are the problems causing poor sleep, or is poor sleep causing the problems? Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, has wrestled with the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, and she finds no easy answers.
“We know insomnia predisposes one to being more susceptible to disease,” says Ancoli-Israel, professor emeritus and professor of research in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. “There’s memory issues, concentration issues, and reaction-time issues. There’s cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, cancer, arthritis—all those are comorbid with insomnia.”
Ancoli-Israel contends that many of the symptoms of “very disturbed sleep” can even mimic dementia. If clinicians fail to discern what is actually going on, months could be wasted on incorrect treatments. “That’s one reason why it’s important to evaluate sleep and make the diagnosis of insomnia, if that is in fact the case in older adults,” she says. “Sometimes older adults will …