Geriatric sleep problems often go undiagnosed

Sunday, April 27, 2003

April 28, 2003

WASHINGTON - While some older adults are very healthy and have normal sleep patterns, frequent untreated sleep problems may be interfering with the ability of many others to cope with chronic medical conditions, according to a poll released today by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

Exploding many common myths that associate poor sleep and less sleep with aging, the 2003 Sleep in America poll shows that older adults typically do not sleep less than their younger counterparts, averaging about seven hours of sleep eachnight.

However, it also finds that some 37 million older Americans suffer from frequent sleep problems that if ignored, can complicate the treatment of a host of common, serious age-related medical conditions, from arthritis to diabetes, heart and lung disease and depression. Poor sleep is also associated with three other problems affecting many older adults: bodily pain, excess weight and ambulatory restrictions, such as difficulty walking or going up and down stairs.

"The 2003 Sleep in America poll indicates that poor health and not age is a major reason why many older people in this country report sleep problems, providing an important wake up call that identifying and treating these sleep problems must be a priority concern," said Richard L. Gelula, NSF's executive director. "The fact that a person is 60 or 70 years old doesn't preclude the possibility of sleeping well and benefiting from this restorative process to remain vital and active. That's why we must drive home the message that sleeping well is vital to aging well."

Marking the Foundation's first effort to look at the sleep habits and patterns of America's older adults - those between the ages of 55 and 84 - NSF's 2003 Sleep in America poll finds a direct association between the number of diagnosed medical conditions that older adults report and the quality of their sleep. The more medical conditions, the more sleep problems.

However, NSF's new poll shows that poor sleep among older adults often goes unnoticed by the medical community.

Although the majority of older adults (67 percent) report frequent sleep problems, only a small fraction (one in eight) says his or her sleep problems have been diagnosed. This means of the 37 million older adults reporting sleep problems, only about seven million have been diagnosed, leaving 30 million to count sheep. NSF is urging the medical community to treat sleep as an integral part of disease management, especially in older patients.