Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper

Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper

Of the behavioral treatments, many of which may be of some assistance in the elderly, only sleep restriction/sleep compression therapy and multi-component cognitive-behavioral therapy have met evidence-based criteria for efficacy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

CBT-I is recommended as the first choice for most patients with insomnia. CBT-I combines different behavioral treatments, resulting in improvements lasting up to two years. Recent guidelines recommend CBT-I as the first-line therapy for insomnia in adults. Examples include:

·  Sleep restriction therapy: The patient is told to reduce his or her sleep/in-bed time to the average number of hours the patient has actually been able to sleep over the last two weeks (as opposed to the number of hours spent in bed (awake plus asleep)). As sleep efficiency increases, time allowed in bed is increased gradually by 15- to 20-minute increments approximately once every five days (if improvement is sustained) until the individual's optimal sleep time is obtained.Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper


·  Sleep compression therapy: The patient is counseled to decrease the amount of time spent in bed gradually to match total sleep time rather than making an immediate substantial change.

Pharmacological Therapy

All drugs for the treatment of insomnia can be associated with side effects - particularly prolonged sedation and dizziness - that can result in the risk of injuries and confusion.

Preferred agents:




Benzodiazepine Receptor Agonists

zolpidem (Ambien)

eszopiclone (Lunesta)

Improved sleep onset latency, total sleep time, and wake after sleep onset

Tricyclic Antidepressants

doxepin 3-6 mg

Doxepin only suggested agent in this class

Orexin Receptor Antagonist

suvorexant (Belsomra)

Improved sleep-onset and/or sleep-maintenance insomnia.

Benzodiazepines can be effective but have more complications and the additional risk of addiction.

Antihistamines, antidepressants (in the absence of depression), anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics are associated with more risks than benefits in older adults.Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper

Combining CBT-I and pharmacological therapy can be helpful in some patients.

The evidence base for exercise as a treatment for insomnia is less extensive. Despite this, there are many other reasons to encourage regular physical activity in the elderly, assuming there are no other contraindications to such activity.


Qaseem A, Kansagara D, Forciea MA, Cooke M, Denberg TD. Management of Chronic Insomnia Disorder in Adults: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2016;165(2):125-33. DOI: 10.7326/M15-2175






After discussing these potential causes of insomnia with Dr. Lee, you feel prepared to talk with Mrs. Gomez. You knock on the exam room door and enter to find a pleasant-appearing Latina who is accompanied by her daughter, Silvia. You introduce yourself and ask if you may ask her a few questions, to which she agrees.

"What brings you to the clinic today?"Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper

"I'm just so tired lately. I just can't seem to sleep."

"Tell me more about this."

"Well, for the last six months I can't sleep for more than a couple of hours before I wake up," Mrs. Gomez tells you.

On further questioning, Mrs. Gomez denies any discomfort such as pain or breathing problems disturbing her sleep. She denies any snoring, apneic spells (a period of time during which breathing stops or is markedly reduced), or physical restlessness during sleep. Her daughter agrees that she has not seen these problems. She rarely consumes alcohol or caffeine.Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper

When you ask if anything like noise or an uncomfortable sleeping environment might be bothering her, she replies that this is not a problem - but her daughter interjects: "Yes, in fact Mom's waking up the rest of us, walking around and turning on the TV. My husband and I both work. So we all need our rest. Mom came to live with us last year after Dad passed away. We're her only family around here and we thought we should help her."






You tell Mrs. Gomez,

"I'm sorry to hear about your husband."

"Yes, we were married for 30 years. This has been a difficult time for me."

"Do you find that you feel sad most of the time?"

"Of course I am sad when I think about my husband and how much I miss him. But I wouldn't say that I'm sad most of the time."Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper

Silvia states, "But Mom, you spend most of your time just moping around the house." Turning to you she elaborates, "She seems to be in slow motion most of the time. She doesn't even go to church anymore. She used to go three to four times a week. She used to read all the time, and she doesn't do that anymore either."

Mrs. Gomez explains, "I haven't been reading as much as I used to because I can't seem to focus and I end up reading the same page over and over." She goes on to say, "And I don't seem to have any energy to do anything. I'm not even able to help out around the house. I feel bad about that; I should be helping out more. I seem to spend a lot of time just watching TV and eating junk food."






I'm not familiar with that product, but I'll mention it to Dr. Lee. I'm glad you brought it up. It's important that your doctors know about everything you are taking, whether it's prescription medication or not. I'm sorry nothing seems to be helping you sleep. We'll get to the bottom of this together."Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper

You turn your attention to taking Mrs. Gomez's past medical history. You learn:

Problem list:

·  Hypercholesterolemia

·  Type 2 diabetes

·  Hypertension

Surgical history:

·  Cholecystectomy

·  Hysterectomy (due to fibroids)


For diabetes:

·  Glyburide (10 mg daily)

·  Metformin (1,000 mg bid)

For blood pressure:

·  Methyldopa (250 mg bid)

·  Lisinopril (10 mg daily)

For cholesterol:

·  Atorvastatin (80 mg daily)

For CHD prophylaxis:

·  Aspirin 81 mg daily

For osteoporosis prevention:

·  Calcium citrate with vitamin D (600mg/400 IU bid)

Diphenhydramine is her only over-the-counter medication, and she is taking no traditional or herbal medications beyond the zapote tea.

Social History

She does not smoke, and drinks only small amounts of alcohol on holidays.Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper


Kemp C, Rasbridge LA. Refugee and Immigrant Health: A Handbook for Health Professionals. Cambridge, UK. Cambridge University Press; 2004.






Given what you have heard from Mrs. Gomez and her daughter, especially

·  her inability to focus,

·  her lack of energy,

·  the sense that she is in slow motion,

·  she has stopped doing activities she previously enjoyed,

You are concerned that her insomnia may be due to depression. Depression may stem from environmental stressors such as her husband's death and her loss of independence along with a primary neurochemical imbalance. Her depression also could be caused by another medical condition.

Medical Conditions Associated with Depression

A number of diseases either cause depressive symptoms or have depression as a comorbidity at higher rates than would be normally expected.

In looking for the causes and associations of depression, first consider the common conditions. Then think about the very serious diseases that you don't want to miss. Beyond that, there's a very wide range of diagnoses that can look like depression:Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper


About 5% of the U.S. population has hypothyroidism. Checking the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) would help make the diagnosis. Hypothyroidism can be treated with thyroid-replacement medications such as triiodothyronine (T3) and/or levothyroxine (T4). Once TSH levels are returned to the normal range, the symptoms of depression often subside.

Parkinson disease:

Up to 60% of people with this disorder experience mild or moderate depressive symptoms. Although several reports have shown a link between depressive symptoms and Parkinson disease, it is unclear whether one causes the other or if both may arise from some common mechanism. A recent study has indicated that depressive symptoms are an early feature of Parkinson disease, preceding the characteristic movement problems seen in Parkinson such as tremor and rigid muscles. Therefore, people with signs of depression who start to develop movement problems should be promptly evaluated to rule out a diagnosis of Parkinson disease.


Dementia and depression may be difficult to differentiate, as people with either disorder are frequently passive or unresponsive, and they may appear slow, confused, or forgetful. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) is useful to assess cognitive skills in people with suspected dementia. (The MMSE examines orientation, memory, and attention, as well as the ability to name objects, follow verbal and written commands, write a sentence spontaneously, and copy a complex shape.) Early and accurate diagnosis of dementia is important for patients and their families because it allows early treatment of symptoms. For people with other progressive dementia, early diagnosis may allow them to plan for the future while they can still help to make decisions. These people also may benefit from drug treatment.Add New

Hypertension (C) and asthma (E) have not been specifically linked to higher rates of depression.

Some other diseases that have been linked to depression include:

·  Endocrine disease (Addison disease, diabetes, Cushing syndrome, hypoglycemia, hyperparathyroidism)

·  Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

·  Cardiovascular disease (myocardial infarction, angina)

·  Cancer (particularly of the pancreas)

·  Cerebral arteriosclerosis, cerebral infarction

·  Electrolyte and renal abnormalities

·  Folate, cobalamin and thiamine deficiencies

·  Hepatitis

·  Intracranial tumors

·  Multiple sclerosis

·  Porphyria

·  Rheumatologic disease (rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, temporal arteritis)

·  Syphilis

·  Temporal lobe epilepsy

·  Huntington's Disease

·  Chronic pain



·  Keeping in mind the disorders associated with depression, you elicit a review of systems from Mrs. Gomez to help discover what these indicate regarding her underlying illness.

·  Constitutional: Mrs. Gomez has gained about 10 lbs in the last six months. She denies fevers or dizziness. This makes you less concerned about cancer or other systemic illness.

·  Respiratory: No shortness of breath, making cardio-respiratory disease less likely.

·  Cardiac: No chest pains, palpitations or edema, decreasing the likelihood of cardiovascular disease.

·  Gastrointestinal: No nausea, changes in bowel habits, hematochezia or melena. This makes you less concerned about gastrointestinal cancer or occult blood loss leading to anemia.Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper

·  Endocrinologic: No polydipsia or polyuria, decreasing the likelihood of poorly controlled diabetes.

·  Neurologic: No acute neurologic changes or tremors. Her daughter confirms that patient has been alert, oriented and has had no episodes of confusion. So you are now less concerned about cerebral infarction, intracranial tumors, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson disease.

·  Urologic: Normally urinates one to two times at night.

·  Once you have completed your review of systems, you excuse yourself from the room for a moment while Mrs. Gomez changes into a gown.

Treatments for Primary Insomnia in the Elderly Paper