The circadian sleep-wake rhythm changes with aging, resulting in a more fragmented sleep-wake pattern. In individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID), brain structures regulating the sleep-wake rhythm might be affected. The aims of this study were to compare the sleep-wake rhythm of older adults with ID to that of older adults in the general population, and to investigate which factors are associated with the sleep-wake rhythm in older adults with ID. This study is part of the 'Healthy Aging and Intellectual Disabilities' study (HA-ID). We applied actigraphy in 551 persons with ID and 58 persons in the general population, aged 50 years and over. Outcome measures were stability (interdaily stability), fragmentation (intradaily variability) and amplitude (relative amplitude) of the sleep-wake rhythm. Compared to older adults in the general population, the sleep-wake rhythm of older adults with ID was significantly less stable (p=0.03), more fragmented (p<0.001) and had a lower relative amplitude (p<0.001). Multivariate regression analysis revealed that higher age, dementia, depression, visual impairment, severe hearing impairment, epilepsy and spasticity are independently associated with a more disturbed sleep-wake rhythm in this group. The sleep-wake rhythm is more stable in females and those living at a setting for more intensive care. Higher physical activity levels are strongly associated with both a less fragmented (p<0.001) and a more stable (p<0.001) sleep-wake rhythm. Higher age, dementia and depression are also associated with the sleep-wake rhythm in the general population. Neurological and sensory impairments that were associated with the sleep-wake rhythm in older adults with ID, are frequent known conditions in the ID population. Further research should focus on which factors specifically influence the sleep-wake rhythm in older adults with ID, and on the effects of more physical daytime activity on the sleep-wake rhythm in this population.
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