Wearable devices may provide the answer to working out which older adults are at future risk of frailty-related health complications by tracking their circadian rhythms, results from a new peer-reviewed study out Thursday show. Photo by 1113990/Pixabay
Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Wearable devices may provide the answer to working out which older adults are at future risk of frailty-related health complications by tracking their circadian rhythms, results from a new peer-reviewed study out Thursday show.
Trials by Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers involving 1,022 people 80 and older fitted with the devices found that they could, in some cases, detect variation in subjects' daily patterns of rest versus activity that suggested future frailty more than six years before onset, according to study results published in the journal Nature Communications.
The effect of aging on rest-activity patterns with seniors waking much earlier than younger people is well established, but analysis of continuous rhythm data recorded by the devices identified a link between disturbances in circadian rest-activity rhythms and higher risk of occurrence and progression of frailty over time.
During the six-and-half-year follow-up phase, 357 participants developed frailty with those most at risk exhibiting "blunted, less robust, or inconsistent" rest-activity patterns. Circadian disturbances were also linked to accelerated worsening of frailty progression symptoms, including reduction in grip strength, decline in body mass index and fatigue.
Variables such as age, sex, sleep duration, sleep quality and cardiovascular dysfunction did not affect the results.
"Our study demonstrates that wearable devices could represent an important tool for long-term health monitoring in older adults," said lead author Ruixue Cai, a doctoral candidate in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders. "Frailty can reduce quality of life and detecting it early or predicting who is at risk could help us intervene to promote healthy aging."
Decline in physiological functioning due to aging is widely seen in older people leaving them more susceptible to negative health outcomes.
The authors stressed that the fact the negative impacts of disrupted rest-activity patterns were not limited to disturbed sleep, with previous research associating them with metabolic changes, brain neuron loss, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease, indicating an overlap between the causes of frailty and cognitive impairment.
However, they warned that existing devices could be thrown off by seasonal variations and environmental conditions that affect circadian rhythms and could cause them to misread sleep-wake cycles.
They said further studies with better sleep assessment would be necessary to get to the root of the causal link between circadian disturbances and frailty but used in combination with other clinical scores rest-activity data held definite promise for early diagnosis and treatment of disease.
"Wearable technology provides a holistic approach for detecting common indicators of disease," said co-author Peng Li, of the Brigham's Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders and the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Combining circadian rest-activity data with other clinical measures could help with early identification and intervention in susceptible populations."
The research was funded with the help of grants from the National Institutes of Health, the BrightFocus Foundation Alzheimer's Research Program and the Brigham Research Institute's Fund to Sustain Research Excellence Program.