Researchers: Docs taking elderly's sleep problems for granted

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Physicians rarely note older patients' complaints of sleep problems in their medical charts, Northwestern University researchers say. Physicians recorded complaints just 19% of the time according to study results.

Sleep problems appear to be widespread in the elderly – nearly 70% of those studied had at least one complaint and 40% had two or more. Sleep disorders are directly correlated with poorer physical and mental health for the elderly, according to previous research.

More than 1,500 individuals age 60 and older were studied in the Northwestern study, which appears in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

"We hypothesize that doctors think that sleep problems are a normal part of aging, and there's not much they can do about it," said study author Kathryn Reid, a research assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine. Sleep disturbances, however, are not an automatic part of aging. Recent research has shown that elderly individuals in good health had very few sleep problems, according to a Northwester statement.

"A lot of studies show that not getting enough sleep can lower your metabolic function; be associated with cardiovascular problems, cancer and breast cancer in women; and increase our mortality. Sleep deprivation also increases your sensitivity to pain," Reid said.