Sleep disorders in the elderly

Tamar Shochat, Jose Loredo, Sonia Ancoli-Israel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sleep disturbances in the elderly may not be a result of the aging process per se, but rather are likely caused by many factors that are amenable to treatment. These factors include medical and psychiatric problems, medications, and circadian rhythm changes, all of which can cause difficulties during sleep at night, and can lead to complaints of insomnia. Other factors that cause disturbances include a high prevalence of specific sleep disorders such as sleep disordered breathing (SDB), periodic limb movements during sleep (PLMS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD). Although these disorders are more prevalent in the older than younger population, they are not exclusive to this age group, and treatment options that are applicable to young adults are also applicable to older adults. On the other hand, dementia and Parkinson’s disease are two neurologic disorders that are almost exclusive to the elderly and most often involve sleep disturbances. Because there are many causes of sleep complaints, when considering treatment options one must identify the underlying problem. If caused by illness, effective treatment of a specific medical or psychiatric problem should help alleviate the sleep problem as well. Changes in the timing of drug administration may improve sleep. For the treatment of chronic insomnia, behavior techniques should always be used in combination with pharmacologic therapy, and sedative-hypnotic medications should be considered when appropriate. The treatment of choice for obstructive sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). For PLMS, dopaminergic agents are most effective. For RBD, clonazepam effectively controls the aversive sleep behaviors. Sleep disturbances secondary to dementia and Parkinson’s disease are usually problematic for the patient as well as the caregiver, whether in the home or in the nursing home. Proper management of these disturbances is beneficial in terms of delaying institutionalization and reducing nursing care costs, as well as improving the quality of life for both patient and caregiver.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-36
JournalCurrent Treatment Options in Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


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