Memory Loss Among Elderly May Be Due to Sleep Deprivation

It’s been accepted for as long as humans were healthy enough to reach an older age — when you get to a certain point in your life, you’re bound to have memory issues and you probably won’t sleep as well.  New research shows, however, that the memory loss may actually be due to lack of sleep.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley found the link, which may open the door to boosting the quality of sleep in elderly people to improve memory.

A news release posted at Science Daily explains the research:

UC Berkeley neuroscientists have found that the slow brain waves generated during the deep, restorative sleep we typically experience in youth play a key role in transporting memories from the hippocampus — which provides short-term storage for memories — to the prefrontal cortex’s longer term “hard drive.”

However, in older adults, memories may be getting stuck in the hippocampus due to the poor quality of deep ‘slow wave’ sleep, and are then overwritten by new memories, the findings suggest.

The findings shed new light on some of the forgetfulness common to the elderly that includes difficulty remembering people’s names.

The discovery that slow waves in the frontal brain help strengthen memories paves the way for therapeutic treatments for memory loss in the elderly. UC Berkeley researchers will be conducting a similar sleep-enhancing study in older adults to see if it will improve their overnight memory.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health.