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Chronobiol Int. 2000 May;17(3):233-43.

Circadian rhythms and sleep in human aging.

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Netherlands Institute for Brain Research, Amsterdam.


This issue of Chronobiology International is dedicated to the age-related changes in circadian rhythms as they occur in humans. It seems timely to give an overview of the knowledge and hypotheses on these changes now that we enter a century in which the number and percentage of elderly in the population will be unprecedented. Although we should take care not to follow the current tendency to think of old age as a disease--ignoring the fine aspects of being old--there is definitely an age-related increase in the risk of a number of conditions that are at least uncomfortable. Circadian rhythms have been attributed adaptive values that usually go unnoticed, but can surface painfully clear when derangements occur. Alterations in the regulation of circadian rhythms are thought to contribute to the symptoms of a number of conditions for which the risk is increased in old age (e.g., sleep disturbances, dementia, and depression). A multidisciplinary approach to investigate the mechanisms of age-related changes in circadian regulation eventually may result in treatment strategies that will improve the quality of life of the growing number of elderly. Although diverse topics are addressed in this issue, the possible mechanisms by which a deranged circadian timing system may be involved in sleep disturbances receives the most attention. This seems appropriate in view of the numerous studies that have addressed this relation in the last decade and also because of the high frequency and strong impact of sleep disturbances in the elderly. This introduction to the special issue first briefly addresses the impact of disturbed sleep in the elderly to show that the development of therapeutic methods other than the currently available pharmacological treatments should be given high priority. I believe that chronobiological insights may play an important role in the development of rational therapeutical methods.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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