How Sleep Affects Heart Health and Seniors

heart health and sleep

Heart health is an important topic for seniors. About 630,000 Americans die from heart disease each year. It’s the leading cause of death among older adults, and the most frequent medical condition affecting them.

When it comes to improving and protecting heart health, the focus is usually on improving diet and exercise while eliminating unhealthy habits. But there’s another important factor that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: sleep.

According to new research published in Experimental Physiology, “habitual short sleep duration” can have a negative impact on heart health.

How Sleep Affects Heart Health in Seniors

The goal of the research published in Experimental Physiology was to determine whether there was a link between “habitual short sleep duration” (sleeping less than seven hours per night) and “specific inflammation and vascular‐related microRNAs.”

MicroRNAs are tiny, non-coding RNA molecules that assist in the regulation of vascular health. These molecules are also an indication of heart health.

The study looked at 24 adults: 12 with short sleep duration and 12 with normal sleep duration. Researchers found that circulating levels of certain microRNAs were much lower in those with short sleep compared to the normal sleep group.

Changes to microRNAs have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and vascular dysfunction.

Seniors and Insomnia

Getting adequate sleep is important to a person’s overall health and well-being, but many seniors struggle to fall or stay asleep. Sleep trouble can make it difficult to reach the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Studies have found that one in four Americans suffer from insomnia each year for a number of reasons. Most individuals eventually return to a normal sleeping pattern within a year, but 20% of individuals will continue to suffer with poor sleeping habits.

In seniors, insomnia is a very common condition, affecting nearly 50% of people aged 60 and older, according to the National Institute of Health.

Causes of Insomnia in Seniors

While insomnia can be a primary condition for some seniors, it’s more often a secondary disorder that stems from another health condition. The most common causes include:

  • Poor sleep habits: Many seniors do not have optimal sleeping environments. Poor behaviors and pre-sleep habits can also make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Anxiety and stress: Everyday life stresses, deaths of loved ones, or other significant life changes can cause anxiety and stress that makes it difficult to sleep.
  • Stimulants: When caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants are consumed too close to bed time, it can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Irregular sleep cycles: Traveling, jet lag or keeping an erratic schedule can disrupt the body’s internal clock.
  • Alcohol consumption: Alcohol can have a sedating effect that promotes sleep initially, but disrupts REM and makes sleep more fragmented.
  • Depression: It’s common for seniors to suffer from depression, and insomnia is a common symptom of depression. SAD is especially common in the winter months.
  • Pain: Chronic pain, such as that caused by osteoporosis or arthritis, can cause physical pain that makes it difficult to sleep.
  • Frequent urination: Waking up several times at night to use the restroom can result in poor sleep quality.
  • Sleep Apnea: Sleep Apnea can have serious consequences to your health. If you suffer from chronic snoring you should consult your physician.

How Seniors can Improve Their Sleep Quality

Improving sleep quality can improve a senior’s overall well-being, but as the new research shows, it can also help improve heart health.

If an underlying medical condition is causing sleep disruption, treating or addressing that underlying cause should be the first step. Seniors can work with their doctors to treat the problem, and hopefully, the insomnia resolves itself.

But seniors can also employ preventative and treatment measures. Proper sleep hygiene is a great place to start. Healthy sleep habits include:

  • Keeping a regular sleep/wake schedule.
  • Engaging in activities that promote relaxation before bed, such as a listening to calming music or taking a warm shower.
  • Optimizing the sleep environment. Ideally, the room should be quiet, dark, safe and comfortable.
  • Exercising early in the day – no later than 4 hours before bed.
  • Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants before bed.
  • Not eating spicy meals or heavy meals before bed.
  • Avoiding activities in bed that may induce anxiety, such as reading, working or watching television.
  • Limiting naps during the day.

Depending on the severity of the insomnia, doctors may recommend sleeping pills. There are also over-the-counter sleep aids, such as those that contain melatonin.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Its Impact on Seniors

seasonal affective disorder and seniors

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real, and it’s the winter blues that won’t seem to go way all season long. Seniors are impacted by SAD more than younger individuals, but how common is this disorder and do other people have it, too?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression that sets in with the changing seasons, and it’s most commonly experienced in the fall and winter months. It’s estimated that over 3 million Americans alone are diagnosed with the condition, or roughly 1% of the population. Some estimates put this figure as high as 5% of the adult population.

You may even find that SAD occurs in the spring and summer months, but this is far less common than in the fall or winter.

The American Psychiatric Association claims that this is a form of depression, and it’s easy to identify. People will experience:

According to the Association, the worst symptoms seem to be in January and February in the United States, but this will be different across the world.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel the “winter blues.” The weather is colder, there’s less to do outdoors and it can be difficult for seniors to go outside of the house, depending on weather conditions.

But SAD goes deeper than just dreading the cooler months of the year.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Scientists studying SAD have been able to link the condition to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. The shorter daylight hours and lack of sun causes the body to naturally shift its circadian rhythm and internal clock.

The further people live from the equator, the more they’re impacted by SAD.

What SAD Does to Seniors

Seniors tend to be more prone to SAD, and there are a lot of reasons for this. When a person has SAD, it can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Sadness or depression
  • Lack of enjoyment in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Increases in sleeping hours
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Feelings of being worthless
  • Attempts or thoughts of suicide

While SAD can impact seniors the most, it’s a condition that first starts to occur in a person’s late teens until their thirties.

People who experience SAD will often gain weight. For a senior, this can lead to being overweight and putting more pressure on the knees, ankles and hips. It’s essential for seniors to manage their weight if they have the hope of remaining active.

Despite a loss of appetite, SAD also leads to increased carbohydrate cravings, which leads to rapid weight gain for many seniors.

Seniors are in a worse situation than many younger sufferers of SAD.


  • Seniors may not want to leave the house. In many cases, seniors will not be able to leave the house due to weather conditions. When this occurs, it can lead to a person losing mobility, strength and flexibility from being immobile.
  • Fear and anxiety can also start to increase at this time. When a person is afraid to go outside or no longer feels like being social, it can lead to social anxiety or even fear of leaving the house.

Winter weather is also much harder for seniors to be active in because of the risks of slipping and falling. A single slip and fall can lead to broken bones and the loss of mobility. Seniors do not want to risk falling, so they’ll often remain in their homes during the winter, leading to higher depression levels overall.

If a senior has SAD, it’s best to ensure that treatment starts as quickly as possible.

Allowing SAD to progress can lead to severe bouts of depression, and it can lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide in the worst-case scenario. Doctors will be able to diagnose the condition, and it’s important to start treatment immediately for the condition.

It’s not uncommon for SAD to last for up to 40% of the year, so there are four months where caretakers and family members need to keep a close eye on the seniors in their lives.

Treatment Options for SAD

SAD normally goes away on its own after the winter months are gone, but it’s important to seek treatment yearly for the condition. A person can better manage their symptoms every year by addressing the condition with the following treatment methods:

  • Get outside more often. There’s less sun during the winter, and the sun is important for a few reasons. The sun provides much-needed Vitamin D, and the sun will also help a person’s sleep cycle regulation. If a person goes outside, they’ll be able to boost their mood and potentially be able to reset their sleep cycle which has been disrupted due to the lack of sunlight.
  • Activity. A little bit of exercise each day can help. If you need assistance, a caretaker may be able to assist you on your walk outside. If weather conditions do not permit outdoor activity, there’s no harm in doing exercise at-home. You can perform weight training, chair yoga or other forms of exercise to boost mood, maintain weight and increase sleep quality.
  • Increase natural light. Lack of light interrupts the internal body clock, and increasing natural light will be able to eliminate this interruption. Open up the curtains and blinds in the home and let some natural light into the room.
  • Therapy. Light therapy has been shown to be an effective form of treatment and may be able to help the brain balance its chemicals.

Anyone that is suffering from SAD will want to research and purchase light therapy lamps. These lamps mimic the sun’s light and will be able to help your body readjust during periods of SAD.

These lamps are a form of light therapy, but it’s important to remain in the light for 30 to 45 minutes per day. The goal is to be able to fully reset the body’s clock and help put the brain’s chemicals back in balance to reduce the sadness and depression that is indicative of SAD.

6 Fun Activities for Seniors with Limited Mobility

Fun activities for seniors

Seniors should be out and about, having fun and enjoying their lives. However, this is not always easy as many seniors have a fear of falling. This fear can lead to a life that is housebound and lonely. A lot of seniors are so paranoid that they will not leave their homes.

It’s understandable: falls can lead to brain injuries, broken bones and bruises.

Activities for seniors do not have to be scary. Seniors can have fun, stay safe and also help increase their mobility (depending on the activity) through the fun activities that we’ve outlined below.

What are a few fun activities for seniors with limited mobility?

1. Water Aerobics

Water aerobics are a great way to stay in shape and stay active as a senior. This is one of the activities for seniors that can be done in a group setting to further promote socialization. But there’s no stopping a senior from entering into a local pool and going for a swim.

Water aerobics offer a low-impact exercise that keeps pain and strain away from the person’s joints.

If a senior has arthritis, warm water can also ease the pain while reducing overall swelling in the body. It’s always a good idea to check with a physician before going in the pool. Your local YMCA may offer this fun way to stay active.

When a senior engages in water aerobics, they’ll be engaging in an activity that can help with:

  • Weight management and loss
  • Muscle toning
  • Improved circulation
  • Heart health

The buoyancy of the water can also help a fearful senior eliminate their fear of walking due to a higher level of support.

2. Chair Yoga

Yoga is versatile, and it is one of the activities for seniors that can be used for tailbone pain, muscle tightness, stiffness and an array of other issues. Chair yoga is meant to be for the senior who lacks proper mobility and balance.

But don’t think that you’ll be sitting in one place the entire time.

Chair yoga can help you build up a sweat and start burning calories while improving range of motion, strengthening bones and muscles, and also alleviating pain. Yoga has also been shown to work for stress reduction – something a lot of seniors need.

Gentle chair yoga can be done in 30-minute sessions, and there are ample free YouTube videos available that will guide you through this gentle yoga practice. Classes in your area may also incorporate chair yoga and will be a great place to meet new friends and become part of the community.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a language is fun because it allows seniors to be able to meet a world of new people. When you speak another language, it opens the doors to new friends and cultures like never before.

And there are often language learning classes at local colleges that seniors can take.

You also have the option of using or hiring a local tutor that can help you learn the language. When anyone learns a language, it’s a great exercise for the brain. Language learning has been shown to improve cognition and keeps the brain young.

The Gerontological Society of America further claims that socialization can help improve a person’s well-being, and to properly learn a language, you must socialize with others to be able to speak it.

Language-learning can also expose seniors to new:

  • Music
  • Friends
  • Movies
  • Television
  • News channels

4. Art or Crafting Classes

Arts and crafts are two of the go-to activities for seniors, and they work so well because they don’t require much mobility. You may be able to find local classes or even meetup groups in your area where seniors get together to make crafts.

While making crafts may not improve your mobility, it’s a great opportunity to get out, socialize or learn something new.

Crafts also allow you to work on and maintain your dexterity – an issue many people have. You’ll be working with your hands, and depending on the craft, you’ll also be using your critical thinking skills in the process. Quilting is a popular craft among seniors.

5. Minor League Baseball Games

It’s also a good idea to just get out of the house and have a little bit of fun. One of the hottest activities for seniors is going to minor league baseball games. These games are very inexpensive, and they allow a senior to get outside and enjoy a day in the stands, cheering on a local team.

Baseball stadiums are handicap accessible, so even if a senior is in a wheelchair, they should have no issues getting seated and watching the game.

You’ll want to look for minor league stadiums in your area and inquire if they have any senior discounts available. A lot of stadiums will offer a discounted rate for seniors.

6. Reading

Sometimes, crowds and going out may not be possible. The weather outside may be poor, or the senior may be feeling unwell. Reading is a great option in this case and allows a senior to keep their mind sharp while doing something that they enjoy.

Reading is a great way for a person to keep their imagination sharp, and it also is very cost-effective.

Local libraries are a great place to find books, and they will also act as a means of socialization if the senior does want to get out of the house. It may also be wise to try and find a book club in the area where members meet to discuss the book they’re reading.

Strokes: Effects, Limitations and Care


A stroke can happen at any time and to anyone. Known as a “brain attack,” strokes occur when blood flow is cut off to certain areas of the brain. When brain cells are deprived of vital oxygen, they die.

Nearly 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke each year. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and the leading cause of adult disability in the nation.

The effects and limitations of a stroke vary from person to person. Some make a full recovery, while others are left with permanent damage.

Types of Strokes

There are several different types of strokes, including:

Ischemic Stroke

An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes obstructed. This is the most common type of stroke, accounting for 87% of all cases.

The primary cause of an ischemic stroke is atherosclerosis, which occurs when fatty deposits build up in the lining of vessel walls. These deposits can cause blood clots that obstruct blood vessels and cut off oxygen to certain areas of the brain.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel in the brain ruptures. There are two main types of weakened blood vessels that can cause this type of stroke:

  • Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs)
  • Aneurysms

Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the leading cause of hemorrhagic strokes.

TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack)

A TIA is also known as a “mini stroke,” and it’s caused by a serious but temporary clot. These are considered warning strokes, and they should be taken very seriously.

Because a TIA doesn’t typically cause permanent damage, they’re usually ignored. But they should be viewed as a serious warning that a full-blown stroke may be in the near future.

Cryptogenic Stroke

A cryptogenic stroke is a stroke with no determinable cause. Extensive testing may be required to try and determine the cause of the stroke.

Brain Stem Stroke

Strokes that occur in the brain stem are called brain stem strokes. This type of stroke can affect both sides of the body, and cause the victim to remain in a “locked-in” state. When this happens, the patient is usually unable to speak or even move below the neck.

The Effects of a Stroke

The cell death brought on by a stroke affect the abilities linked to the area of the brain affected by the attack. For many people, this means losing memory function or muscle control.

The brain is a complex organ, and it’s difficult to know for sure how a stroke will affect a person until after the attack. It will primarily depend on the area of the brain and how much of the tissue has been impacted by the stroke.

It’s important to remember that the left side of the brain affects the right side of the body and vice versa.

Here’s what can happen when a stroke impacts each side of the brain:

Right Brain

  • Paralysis on the left side of the body
  • Vision problems
  • Memory loss

Left Brain

  • Paralysis on the right side of the body
  • Speech or language problems
  • Memory loss

If the stroke occurs in the brain stem, both sides of the body can be affected, depending on the severity of the injury.


Depending on the location and severity of the stroke, victims may have to face several challenges and limitations moving forward.

Physical limitations are the most obvious effect. Paralysis may occur, which can make it difficult or impossible to walk without a mobility device. Stroke victims may also experience:

  • Difficulty with fine motor skills
  • Spasticity
  • Visual disturbances
  • Shoulder weakness
  • Hand and wrist weakness
  • Decreased sensation
  • Difficulty determining where their body is in space

These physical limitations will undoubtedly impact the person’s daily life and activities. Rehabilitation may be able to restore some or all function, depending on the severity of the injury.

Stroke victims may also experience communication challenges or cognitive deficits, such as difficulty solving problems. Depending on the location of the stroke, the victim may suffer from aphasia, a condition that affects the person’s ability to understand or process language. Speech and attention issues may also occur. Right-brain strokes can impact a person’s problem-solving skills.

Other limitations aren’t clearly visible or audible. Many stroke victims suffer emotional and behavioral changes following the attack. Depression is common among stroke victims, and many lose their self-confidence following the attack.


Stroke care and treatment will depend on the type of stroke.

Ischemic Stroke

The primary goal when treating this type of stroke is clot removal. Clots can be removed either with medication or through mechanical treatments.

Alteplase IV r-tPA is a medication treatment that is considered the “gold standard,” according to the American Stroke Association. Also known as alteplase, this drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat ischemic strokes. It is administered via an IV in the arm, and it works to dissolve the clot and restore blood flow to the affected area of the brain.

Unfortunately, most people don’t arrive at the hospital quickly enough for this medication to be as effective as it could be. Early detection of the stroke can help maximize the benefits of the drug.

Doctors can also attempt to remove the clot manually through either a mechanical thrombectomy or an endovascular procedure. This procedure requires doctors to use a stent retriever (a wire-cage device). A catheter is sent up through an artery in the groin to the blocked artery in the brain. The stent then opens and grabs the clot.

In some cases, doctors may use special tubes to remove the clot.

The procedure must be performed within six hours of the stroke symptoms, but some benefits may still be experienced if performed within 24 hours of onset.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

With a hemorrhagic stroke, the goal is to stop the bleeding. It’s also important for doctors to understand the cause of the stroke.

In most cases, hemorrhagic strokes are caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Mechanical treatments may be used to stop the bleeding. A small catheter may be sent up through a major artery in the leg or arm to the brain tissue. This allows the surgeon to see the problem. Once the source of the bleeding is identified, a mechanical agent can be deposited to prevent further rupture.

How Does a Pressure Mattress Work? How Do They Prevent Pressure Sores?

alternating pressure relief mattress

Alternating pressure relief mattresses are key when trying to relieve pressure sore pain or stop pressure sores from forming in the first place. Traditional mattresses are static, so if a person lacks mobility and cannot shift their weight properly or roll over in the middle of the night, pressure mattresses can help.

You can find full replacement systems that completely replace a traditional mattress, or you can choose an overlay system.

Overlay systems allow you to keep your current mattress and put a mattress topper on the existing mattress that is 2-5 inches in depth. Either options will work well for someone at high risk of bed sores or that already has bed sores and is trying to find relief.

What is a Pressure Mattress?

If you’re suffering from a pressure sore, a pressure mattress is designed to increase your comfort and support stress points. A regular mattress allows for stress points to stop pressure ulcers, or bed sores, from occurring.

Bone protrusions are key areas where this pressure will build and lead to a sore.

Sores can be small, or they can be allowed to persist and grow large in size. Pressure mattresses often use air to allow for this pressure to be relieved. The skin is allowed to heal if you have a pressure sore, and if a person is going to be bed ridden, these beds can help prevent pressure sores from occurring.

How Does an Alternating Pressure Mattress Work?

Pressure ulcers occur when a person remains immobile, unable to turn or shift in the bed. If a person is allowed to stay in the same position, these ulcers will begin to develop.

These mattresses work by relieving pressure on key points, but there are different mattress types that work slightly differently:

Reactive Surface Mattresses

A reactive mattress is one that is made of memory foam, and it works by relieving pressure by evenly distributing the person’s weight. They respond to a person’s body weight.

These mattresses are a good option to prevent bed sores, but they do not provide the comfort and needs for someone that has higher than a Grade 2 ulcer.

Static mattresses are best used when a nurse or caregiver repositions the person often. Otherwise, you may want to choose one of the other mattress options below.

Active Surface Mattresses

An active surface mattress is one that changes to help relieve pressure and allow the healing of the ulcers. These mattresses offer a dynamic surface where pressure is redistributed often and this is often done with air-flow.

Pumps attach to the mattress and are usually on the footboard of the bed.

The pump will inflate and deflate cells. When bed sores have been allowed to develop to Grade 3 and 4 sores, these mattresses allow for the best relief. The mattress and corresponding air pockets will continually move, allowing for no turning or repositioning of the person.

Air mattresses are recommended when a person needs more than manual repositioning.

Hybrid Mattresses

Hybrid mattresses combine your reactive and active mattress surfaces. These mattresses are versatile, and they offer alternating air cells with a foam mattress topper. The foam provides optimal comfort, while the alternating portion of the mattress keeps pressure relief high.

The hybrid mattress is a great option to help a person stop pressure sores from occurring in the first place. If a person does not have any mobility, they may want to use the active surface mattress instead.

Why Pressure Mattresses Help People with Pressure Sores Sleep

I have had a severe bed sore before, and when you’re in a traditional bed, the pressure is still placed on the area where the pressure sore occurred. My sore was on my tailbone, and since you cannot control your actions while sleeping, I kept laying on my back.

Nurses would turn me, and air “donuts” were placed under my tailbone to help alleviate the pressure.

I had to have surgery to correct the problem because it was allowed to progress, but pressure mattresses helped relieve pain before and after surgery. These mattresses keep pressure off of key pressure areas – in my case, the tailbone.

Since pressure is relieved, the body can begin to heal and stop the sore from progressing.

The static mattress, or your memory foam mattress, is only a good option when you have a very minor sore. Otherwise, hybrid or alternating mattresses will provide the relief that a person with a Grade 3 or Grade 4 pressure sore needs to sleep well at night.

And since the alternating pressure reduces the need to be turned, it will reduce a person’s need for a caregiver to turn them every few hours.

It’s almost impossible to sleep when a caregiver comes into the room every few hours in the middle of the night to turn you to sleep well. Pressure mattresses allow you to sleep better at night and remain comfortable during the day.