As people age, they typically develop more diseases and suffer from aches and pains. "These things can disrupt sleep, so what they may perceive as a sleep disorder may actually relate to the effects of some of their other medical problems," Gammack noted.
Taking multiple medications, as many older people do, can also lead to fatigue and "hypersomnia," or being tired all the time, Bloom added.
Another big problem, he noted, is depression and anxiety. "Those are very commonly associated with sleep problems."
Despite the prevalence of sleep difficulties in older adults, many patients aren't getting the help they need.
"The average physician receives very little training about sleep disorders and typically does not routinely screen patients for them," said Vitiello, who serves on the board of directors of the National Sleep Foundation. This may be due to a lack of time or training or the belief that there is little that can be done to improve sleep, he explained.
As a result, problems like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea and circadian rhythm disorders are underdiagnosed and undertreated, Bloom said.
To rectify the problem, a national coalition of aging, geriatric medicine and sleep organizations is currently developing guidelines to promote prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sleep problems in older adults. The National Coalition for Sleep Disorders in Older People expects to publish its recommendations by mid-2008.
"The reason we're concerned with these [problems], besides a major issue on quality of life and being tired the next day and not functioning properly, is that these sleep disorders are associated with hypertension, diabetes, pulmonary disease, heart disease, depression and anxiety," said Bloom, chairman of coalition's expert task force.
A cause-and-effect relationship has yet to be established between sleep disorders and these chronic health
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