- University of WA researchers believe that the sleeping habits, memory and mood patterns of an older person might be linked.
- Changing an older person’s sleeping habits could therefore lead to an improvement in mood and memory.
- People from in and around Perth aged 50-75 who have a diagnosis of depression are being encouraged to participate in a new study to prove this link.
By Yasmin Noone
West Australian researchers are on the hunt for people with a diagnosis of depression, aged between 50 and 75, who would be willing to help them determine the missing link between sleep, memory and mood in the older population.
The University of Western Australia (UWA) study will attempt to investigate whether sleep problems contribute to cognitive changes that occur in older age, and whether depression impacts on this relationship.
Researcher and PhD student from UWA’s Centre for Clinical Research in Neuropsychiatry, Alix Mellor, hypothesises that sleep could be an underlying contributing factor for depression.
“[We know] that depression affects sleep quality and memory,” Ms Mellor said.
“And there’s been a lot of research looking at sleep and memory in middle aged adults but very few studies in older adults that investigate sleep, memory and depression.
“These factors are all really closely linked but not enough is known about how they are linked.”
Ms Mellor hopes that the study will prove an essential step in increasing an older person’s quality of life by first improving their sleep and mood patterns.
“Not getting enough sleep or having poor quality sleep can really affect our quality of life and thought processes, such as attention and memory,” Ms Mellor said.
“However, depression can also affect mental functions, including memory.”
“…If we can treat a person’s sleep, we might be able to improve their depression and mood.”
This study follows on from Ms Mellor’s earlier investigation into sleep habits and age.
The trial, involving more than 600 participants, found that sleep does not necessarily worsen with age, contrary to popular belief.
“Our results show that overall sleep quality remains relatively constant across the lifespan,” she said.
“However, while some aspects of self-reported sleep quality worsen with age, some do not change and some appear to improve.
“The third major discovery was that older adults often didn’t complain about the effects of poor sleep on their daytime functioning, possibly because they accepted changes in their sleep quality as a normal part of getting older.
“So this means it’s important for doctors to assess sleep problems carefully in older adults because they may have an underlying sleep disorder that they are either not aware of or at least not complaining about.”
What’s the volunteer criteria?
Ms Mellor is currently looking for at least 20 eligible volunteers who will complete her current trial into sleep and depression in older adults.
Volunteers must be aged between 50 and 75 and have a current diagnosis of clinical depression that is uni-polar and only be on non-benzodiazepine medications.
They should also have no history of dementia or other serious health conditions or sleep apnoea, because these issues might affect their memory.
Participants must also live in and around the Perth metropolitan area and be willing to have Ms Mellor conduct the tests in their home (or aged care facility).
What’s required of a volunteer?
According to Ms Mellor, participation will involve an intensive two-to-three week process involving five home visits of 15 minutes to an hour in duration.
Volunteers will be confidentially interviewed about their depressive symptoms and sleep.
Study participants will be asked to wear a small watch that monitors sleep-wake patterns for the duration of the study and to complete a daily sleep diary.
There are two overnight sleep studies in the person’s home, where electrodes are attached to the face and head, allowing researchers to obtain measures of sleep stages and respiratory function.
However, the electrodes will be part of a small portable device which is non-restrictive and allow participants to be fully mobile (for example, make trips to the toilet) and free to move.
Participants also asked to complete a set of computerised tasks to assess thinking skills.
“A lot of people don’t know how important this is but if you know that sleep is affecting your memory then potentially treating your sleep could improve your memory and mood,” she said.
Sleep study results will be provided to all participants.
To find out more, contact Ms Mellor on 9347 6404 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org