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Medicine Science

Older Adults' Forgetfulness Tied To Faulty Brain Rhythms In Sleep, Study Says (npr.org) 70

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Older brains may forget more because they lose their rhythm at night. During deep sleep, older people have less coordination between two brain waves that are important to saving new memories, a team reports in the journal Neuron. The finding appears to answer a long-standing question about how aging can affect memory even in people who do not have Alzheimer's or some other brain disease. The study was the result of an effort to understand how the sleeping brain turns short-term memories into memories that can last a lifetime, says Matt Walker, the author of the book Why We Sleep. "What is it about sleep that seems to perform this elegant trick of cementing new facts into the neural architecture of the brain?" To find out, Walker and a team of scientists had 20 young adults learn 120 pairs of words. "Then we put electrodes on their head and we had them sleep," he says. The electrodes let researchers monitor the electrical waves produced by the brain during deep sleep. They focused on the interaction between slow waves, which occur every second or so, and faster waves called sleep spindles, which occur more than 12 times a second. The next morning the volunteers took a test to see how many word pairs they could still remember. And it turned out their performance was determined by how well their slow waves and spindles had synchronized during deep sleep.

Next, the team repeated the experiment with 32 people in their 60s and 70s. Their brain waves were less synchronized during deep sleep. They also remembered fewer word pairs the next morning. And, just like with young people, performance on the memory test was determined by how well their brain waves kept the beat, says Randolph Helfrich, an author of the new study and a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. The team also found a likely reason for the lack of coordination associated with aging: atrophy of an area of the brain involved in producing deep sleep. People with more atrophy had less rhythm in the brain, Walker says.

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Older Adults' Forgetfulness Tied To Faulty Brain Rhythms In Sleep, Study Says

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  • I've noticed my short-term memory is just crap. Working Seattle Hundreds sucks, and it sucks even more at my age.

    • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

      Dear M. Greenwow,

      May I suggest you slow down on smoking the green? There is reports that it affects short term memory. Things might not be so "wow" anymore but at least your short term memory should improve.

    • The universe is a giant state machine and we are all cogs in its machinery. The universe sends us out to investigate its infinite states.
  • pee (Score:5, Funny)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Tuesday December 19, 2017 @12:01AM (#55766595)
    getting up in the middle of the night to pee doesn't help either.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      getting up in the middle of the night to pee doesn't help either.

      Don't turn on the light and sit down when you pee. You'll stay closer to your sleep state.

      • Don't turn on the light and sit down when you pee. You'll stay closer to your sleep state.

        Pete's on to something here. Get a dim night-light, and definitely don't turn the bathroom light on when you get up to pee. The night light is so you don't pee three inches wide of the toilet. Also, darken your room as much as possible. Little things like the blinking lights on a cable modem or router can disrupt your sleep. I used to have one of those dark masks for sleeping, but then I just taped over the usele

      • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
        Don't turn on the light and sit down when you pee. You'll stay closer to your sleep state.

        At least until you step on any of the area denial devices commonly sold under the brand name LEGO.

    • Not getting up in the middle of the night and peeing in the diaper is worse.
  • Jeeze... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <rgb&phy,duke,edu> on Tuesday December 19, 2017 @12:09AM (#55766627) Homepage

    OK, so they did a study comparing young people and old people, where the young people all had smooth skin and high levels of sex hormones, and the old people all were somewhat wrinkled and had lowered levels of sex hormones. The young people remembered more than the old people. Hence, we can obviously conclude that having a smooth skin and a powerful sex drive improves memory.

    What's that latin again? Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Sounds so much better than in English: correlation is not causality!

    Sure, sure, they found similar correspondences in young and old people, but they still miss this point. Both could have the same independent cause, and indeed in the case of the young people it is rather likely that they do, since presumably they don't have atrophied brain parts that usually produce deep sleep but just didn't sleep deeply anyway!

    About the best one can do from this from the sound of it is: Not getting good sleep is bad for your memory.

    Wow. That's sure news. Nobody even suspected! And some people don't get good sleep because they drink too much coffee in the evening. And others don't get good sleep because they are in pain all the time. And still others don't get good sleep because they have obstructive sleep apnea. And whaddya know -- some of them have atrophy in a part of the brain that helps produce good sleep.

    I was going to say something else about this, but I dozed off for a moment there and now I forgot.

    Sorry.

    • Re:Jeeze... (Score:5, Funny)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Tuesday December 19, 2017 @01:35AM (#55766805) Journal

      and the old people all were somewhat wrinkled and had lowered levels of sex hormones.

      Listen you whippersnapper. I may be old, but I've got sex hormones coming out my ass.

      Wait, that didn't sound right...

      • Listen you whippersnapper. I may be old, but I've got sex hormones coming out my ass .....

        Thanks for sharing. Bartender! Nightmares for everyone!

      • I'm a member of the post-60 cadre myself, and all I can say is that my memory is indeed failing to some extent. I refuse to state whether or not it is correlated with my sex hormone levels, in part because I possess no good way to measure them. I'm pretty sure, however, that they aren't coming out of my ass.

    • The research was done by older researchers, so the question is, did they remember to follow the protocols...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The decline in Slow Wave sleep with age is well documented and well understood. Sleep Spindles are inhibitory signals to maintain sleep continuity. I suspect that memories and learning are linked to REM sleep, although most antidepressants will 'happily' remove REM sleep without much loss in cognitive function.

      Very few people will reach advanced years without some form of Sleep Disorder degrading sleep. These are treatable, old age not so much,

    • Next step of course is testing the hypothesis that cerebral atrophy is the culpit.
      So find old people with different gradations of atrophy but the same level of brain wave synchronicity and check whether their memories behave according to the theory. If not, theory falsified, if yes, go to the next step. But quickly please, because I almost turn 60.
      • Hey, I'm on the wrong side of it already. In some ways, my brain works a lot better than it did when I was young. For example, when I was 18/19 I was getting B's in courses that I know teach. Then, I could barely remember the laws of physics and all of the formulas involved -- largely because I didn't understand them and couldn't derive them. Now I don't even bother preparing if I need to show students how to solve some problem out of an intro physics textbook. I can solve all of them (within statistic

    • Your criticism is ill-considered for the following reasons:

      1. They compared between and among groups. Young people with lower sync during sleep performed worse than young people with higher sync during sleep. Same for the older group. They deliberately controlled for age in order to eliminate it as a confounding variable.

      2. They are not measuring the quality of sleep. They are measuring how two specific types of brain activity affect memory. Did you read the entire summary, or did you knee-jerk?

      3. There is

  • ... what happened while I was asleep?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    From TFA "That's discouraging because atrophy in this area of the brain is a normal consequence of aging, Walker says, and can be much worse in people with Alzheimer's."
    I thought the brain deteriorated uniformly. Stem cells might be another promising remedy for the determination.

  • No raging hormone fired erection that just won't go to sleep so you can.

    Then there is the 5 AM morning wood.

    Things that don't happen when you get older.

  • So do we know if chemically assisting sleep can help with these brain waves? And further than that, is there something more natural that might help this, like marijuana, or even a low dose of alcohol?

  • by lazarus ( 2879 ) on Tuesday December 19, 2017 @10:12AM (#55768045) Homepage Journal

    This explains why my fucking cat wakes me up in the middle of the night EVERY NIGHT. It's part of his evil plan to take control of my household and control the distribution of kibble.

    The last laugh's on me asshole, YOU STILL DON'T HAVE THUMBS!

  • "Older brains may forget more /because/ they lose their rhythm at night."

    Unless figuring out a way to synchronize those ways IMPROVES memory, there's little way to tell the difference between a cause and a symptom.

    It could be that whatever mechanism is causing faulty memory is ALSO causing unsynchronized waves.

    To declare "this is why X happens" you need a much higher standard of evidence.

    Curiously, and oddly, the slashdot headline is actually more correct - they seem to be RELATED, is all we know so far.

  • I take 3mg melatonin at night... it helps me sleep but I also have dreams similar to when I was younger. I wonder if there is a relationship? Studies have shown melatonin levels go down as you age.
  • Ok, as an old phart, my first question is, is there a TREATMENT? Yes, my memory retention has declined. It scares me. In IT, you have to keep up with current technology, which means retaining what you learned. That's become more and more difficult. (Not to the point where I can hide my own easter eggs, though.) Ok, it's good to know a possible cause. What do I do about it? I can't see myself retiring.

    • I guess you forgot to read the source article. It says the researcher has started looking into ways to build a pacemaker-like device to resynchronize the brain waves.

    • I just research whatever I am working on and paste what I need to know into a text file I don't bother trying to remember anything anymore.
      • I do that also. I'm a big fan of tiddlywiki because all the data is in one file and the search feature is robust. There are ways to compensate, but it's been difficult to carry on a technical conversation when I have to keep looking up terms.

        • LOL it's terrible it also means I am screwed trying to interview 'you know the thingy' doesn't go over very well. Sad too because I still outproduce the youngins by a long shot.
  • I was going to respond, but I forgot what I was going to say.

    That being said, i just had a Space-OAR [spaceoar.com] inserted for prostate cancer radiation treatment. I've been miserable for the last two weeks, waking up every 2 hours to pee, even if there's absolutely nothing to do; it just FEELS like there is. That being said, the annoying feeling is slowly going away as I get used to it, and I'd MUCH rather have this that the standard balloon alternative it replaces.

    Even though it's bothersome as heck for a few we

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