It’s not unusual for the elderly to be more susceptible to fatigue as the body ages. However, a new study has suggested that excessive sleepiness during the day or fatigue greater than normal for one’s age could be tied to atrophy in the brain.
The findings came out of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, which looked at 1,258 “cognitively normal” elderly, all aged 50 or higher. Participants underwent MRI scans and filled out sleepiness and fatigue surveys using accepted standard scales. Those elderly who identified as having above-average fatigue had lower thickness in the temporal lobe and lower volume in the hippocampus. The scale of the changes was equivalent to six to eight-and-a-half years of extra aging. Extra daytime sleepiness was associated with lower cortical thickness that was equivalent to about three years of extra aging. These individuals also ranked lower on cognitive scores.
Atrophy is a normal biological process that happens when part of the body wastes away due to lack of use or degeneration of cells. A certain level of atrophy is therefore normal when aging, but these findings indicate that the rate of decline may be higher in some individuals more than others.
The reason or mechanism behind the observed differences is not mentioned, but it was observed that the affected areas of the brain are also those that are susceptible to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Due to this association, it is possible that the findings could lead to a way to better identify individuals who are more susceptible to developing dementia. Since all of the study participants were cognitively normal, however, a much more investigation would be required. Unless a follow-up study that tracks the participants and looks at dementia rates is conducted, speculation is the only option.
Regardless of how immediately applicable the findings may or may not be, they are still an interesting development. Aging makes the body go through all sorts of changes and learning more about their impact in any form can better enhance our understanding of what it means to get older.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Sleepiness and fatigue linked to brain atrophy in cognitively normal elderly,” Medical News Today, June 15, 2016; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/311007.php, last accessed June 30, 2016.
Carvalho, D., et. al., “Sleepiness and Fatigue Associated With Brain Atrophy in Cognitively Normal Elderly: Mayo Clinic Study of Aging,” Sleep, 2016; http://www.sleepmeeting.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/sleep-39-as_final.pdf?sfvrsn=2%20target= (ID: 0979).