Restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder in the elderly

J Psychosom Res. 2004 May;56(5):543-8. doi: 10.1016/S0022-3999(04)00020-0.


Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sensorimotor neurological disorder characterized by an urge to move the extremities, mostly the legs, caused or accompanied by unpleasant sensations in the affected limbs. Symptoms appear or increase in the evening or during the night and at rest. Sleep disturbances are the most frequent reason why patients seek medical aid. The diagnosis of periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) requires polysomnographic confirmation and relies on the exclusion of other causes of sleep disturbances. The diagnosis of RLS is a clinical one and usually based on the patient's history. Diagnosis criteria should be applied in a modified form in the cognitively impaired elderly. The newly revised criteria emphasize behavioral indicators and supportive features in diagnosing RLS in this special population. Prevalence of both disorders increases strongly with age. Epidemiological studies revealed a 9% to 20% prevalence of RLS and an estimated 4% to 11% prevalence of PLMD in the elderly. Recent studies indicate RLS occurring approximately twice as often in older women than in older men. Treatment with dopaminergic drugs, opioids, anticonvulsants or hypnotics are usually well tolerated in the elderly. However, interaction with other medications and the possibility of severe sedation due to slower metabolism in the elderly should be considered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome* / physiopathology
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome* / therapy
  • Prevalence
  • Restless Legs Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Restless Legs Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Restless Legs Syndrome* / physiopathology
  • Restless Legs Syndrome* / therapy
  • Sex Factors