Q. My 80-year-old mother, who lives alone, seems to look tired and has yellow eyes. I’m also wondering about her inability to get to sleep. Is it possible that the symptoms involve a single cause?
First, she should see her doctor. Cataracts have been shown to be a factor in frequent insomnia among the elderly, according to research, and sleep quality has improved after cataract surgery.
A natural age-related yellowing of the eye lens that absorbs blue light has been linked to sleep disorders in a group of test volunteers, according to a study in the journal Sleep. As this type of lens discoloration worsened with age, so did the risk of insomnia.
The 970 study volunteers had their eyes examined by lens autofluorometry; a non-invasive method that determined how much blue light was transmitted into the retina. Blue light influences the sleep cycle by helping initiate the release of the hormone Melatonin, which tells the body when it’s time to go to sleep or stay awake.
“The strong link between lens yellowing and age could help explain why sleep disorders become more frequent with increasing age,” said Line Kessel, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “The results showed that while age-related lens yellowing is of relatively little importance for visual function, it may be responsible for insomnia in the elderly,” added Kessel, a senior scientist in the Department of Opthalmology at Glostrup Hospital in Denmark.
She said sleep quality has been shown to improve after cataract surgery. “The transmission of blue light currently cannot be improved by any other method than cataract surgery. I’m involved with another research project where we try non-invasively to remove the yellow color of the lens using a laser, but the method is not yet developed for clinical use,” Kessel said.
For seniors who are anxious at bedtime and therefore have a difficult time getting to sleep, having someone in the home at that time might help. If that’s not always possible for family caregivers, a Home Instead CAREGiverSM could help. CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured and are available 24-7 including holidays to help ensure older adults are safe and comfortable wherever they call home.
Read more about sleep and older adults from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine at http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=28085.