According to the National Sleep Foundation, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects 18 millions Americans. Until now, no research on the effectiveness of CPAP for sleep apnea in seniors had even been conducted. A new study, recently published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine, suggests that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can be very effective for older OSA patients. The study also recommended increased awareness of OSA.
OSA is typically more common in older people and its symptoms may be attributed to old age, and a senior may simply take naps to compensate for the daytime sleepiness that results from OSA. Because a person with sleep apnea can stop breathing for 30 seconds or longer before waking up and breathing again, oxygen levels fall. This happens because the breathing pauses prevents the body from getting the oxygen it needs. According to Professor Mary Morrell of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, low oxygen levels contribute to cognitive decline in the elderly.
“We think low oxygen levels at night might accelerate cognitive decline in old people, and studies have found that sleep apnea causes changes in the grey matter in the brain. We’re currently researching whether treatment can prevent or reverse those changes,” said Professor Morrell.
The study involved nearly 300 patients aged 65 and older at over 14 National Health Service (NHS) centers in the UK and was conducted by researchers at the Imperial College London and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Researcher found that CPAP therapy reduces daytime sleepiness and reduces healthcare costs.
CPAP therapy involves use of a machine that delivers pressurized air into the nose through a mask that is placed over the nose or both the nose and mouth. The pressurized air keeps the airways in the throat open and prevents them from narrowing and causing interruptions in breathing during sleep. Professor Morrell believes older people will definitely benefit from CPAP therapy.
“Sleep apnea can be hugely damaging to patients’ quality of life and increase their risk of road accidents, heart disease and other conditions. Lots of older people might benefit from this treatment. Many patients feel rejuvenated after using CPAP because they’re able to sleep much better and it may even improve their brain function.”
Most of the time, snoring is relatively harmless to your health, but it can signal a more serious health condition such as OSA. Snoring that is very loud and frequent is a sure sign of OSA and should not be taken lightly at any age. The elderly are known for dozing off during the daytime, but if this behavior accompanies the night-time snoring, it may be sleep apnea. You should also inform your doctor if you or a loved one has had breathing pauses during sleep, choking or gasping during sleep, morning headaches (from low oxygen levels) or elevated blood pressure.
By Ramie A Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT