Author(s): Naylor E, Penev PD, Orbeta L, Janssen I, Ortiz R
Decreased levels of physical and social activity associated with aging can be particularly pronounced in residents of assisted living facilities. Reduced exposure to important behavioral and time-giving cues may contribute to the age-related changes in circadian rhythmicity and sleep. The present study was conducted to test the hypothesis that an enforced schedule of structured social and physical activity (0:900 to 10:30 and 19:00 to 20:30 daily for two weeks) can have beneficial effects on circadian rhythmicity, nocturnal sleep, daytime functioning, mood, and vigor. The subjects were 14 elderly residents of continued-care retirement facilities while a similar group of 9 elderly residents served as controls. The group exposed to structured activities had increased amounts of slow-wave sleep and demonstrated improvement in memory-oriented tasks following the intervention. Conversely, no significant changes were noted in the amplitude and phase of the body temperature rhythm or in subjective measures of vigor and mood. These results indicate that short-term exposure to structured social intervention and light physical activity can significantly improve memory performance and enhance slow-wave sleep in older adults without alterations to the circadian phase or amplitude of body temperature. This is the first report to demonstrate that low intensity activity in an elderly population can increase deep sleep and improve memory functioning. The high degree of interest in these activities paired with the simple nature of the tasks makes this a potentially practical intervention which can be adapted for both community dwelling and assisted-living elders.