02/15: Insomnia

Today’s book tie-in is the Stephen King novel “Insomnia”.  It has been quite awhile since I have read this tome, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit this week in relation to the recent article in the New York Times in regard to aging, memory, and sleep.  (To read the full article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/28/health/brain-aging-linked-to-sleep-related-memory-decline.html?_r=1&)

The book “Insomnia” centers around two elderly people (Ralph Roberts and Lois Chasse) who, as a result of aging (or so they think), have developed an inability to stay asleep.  As time drags on, they discover that their insomnia doesn’t have as much to do with aging as it does with thwarting evil, and they commence on an adventure to restore good to the world.

Like most Stephen King books, the novel is a bit wordy but overall has a satisfying story.  The characters are believable and there are tie-ins to his epic “The Dark Tower” series (of which I have just started reading…LOVE!!!)

Both “Insomnia” and The Times article were of great interest to me because as a speech pathologist, I see a lot of geriatric clients who complain of both memory loss and sleep disturbances.  Many worry that they are starting to display signs of Alzheimer’s and are unaware of how their insomnia could actually be the cause of their memory loss.

Adequate sleep is crucial to the formation of memories and if you don’t get enough of it, it can negatively affect your overall cognition (and this is true no matter how old or young you are).  Sadly, there isn’t enough speech therapy in the world that can improve your memory if you aren’t getting enough sleep at night.

Unfortunately, for many elders, sleep problems are often overlooked by the medical community.  On more than one occasion I have referred clients for sleep studies only to have the physician say “Oh, he/she’s too old.  A sleep study won’t matter.”

Really????  Too old?  WTH?  You know, I understand that there are certain surgeries and medications that aren’t appropriate for older people, but to make age a determinate as to whether or not someone can get a good night’s sleep is ridiculous.  These clients that I am talking about live at home (often alone).  They STILL DRIVE.  They are as much of a human being as anyone else and they deserve to have a good night’s sleep. Denying help that could improve the quality of life for someone just based upon their age is a grave injustice.  Imagine how much more independent an elder could be if he or she could have improved sleep that results in better cognitive function.

Like the Times article states, we cannot reverse structural changes in the brain (whether they are due to aging or injury) but we can improve how the brain functions through a variety of interventions.  By improving sleep we can improve how a person thinks and functions all throughout their life.

In “Insomnia”, Ralph Roberts heroically takes on The Crimson King and other villains on little to no sleep, and does so with great aplomb.  But in the real world, trying to get through your daily routine on decreased sleep is hardly an adventure.  In fact, for many elders, it’s a set up for failure and ultimately, the loss of independence.  Mistakes made in taking medications, falls, and fractures can all be caused by sleep related cognitive deficits and are often the primary reason for nursing home placements.

No one is too old to benefit from NeurOptimal (R) Brain Spa Sessions.   Do you know an elder who has trouble sleeping at night?  Have them give us a call and let us help them get a good night’s sleep.


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