Sleep Apnea in the Elderly

April 3, 2019
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Sleep apnea affects more than 18 million people in the United States alone. Family members who care for those with sleep apnea often balance duties at home and work during the day. Then, they are expected to provide the necessary level of care to their loved ones throughout the night. Juggling these tasks can be difficult and even impossible to manage.

Learn how sleep apnea affects seniors and where to find respite care to restore peace of mind to your family.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes an interruption of breathing while one is sleeping. Sometimes, the cessation of breathing can occur hundreds of times per night (possibly lasting more than a minute), which means the brain along with the rest of the body may not be getting enough oxygen.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Individuals with sleep apnea often experience the following:

  • Dry, sore throat, especially upon waking
  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Headaches, especially in the morning
  • Restless sleep, recurrent awakenings, and insomnia
  • Forgetfulness
  • Changes in mood
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Anxiety and depression

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea.

1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most common type and is caused by a blockage in the airways. During sleep, the muscles in the throat and tongue relax (sometimes collapsing) causing a blockage in the airway. This absence of air causes apnea as well as snoring.

2. Central Sleep Apnea

This is a less common type that occurs when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing.

3. Mixed Sleep Apnea

With this type, patients often experience long periods of obstructive sleep apnea, followed by brief periods of central sleep apnea.

How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

If the doctor suspects your loved one has sleep apnea, they may recommend a sleep apnea test, known as a polysomnogram. This test can be done in a sleep disorder center or can sometimes be done in your home. A polysomnogram (also known as a sleep study) is a multiple component test that transmits and records specific physical activities while the patient sleeps.

These recordings are analyzed by a sleep specialist and will determine whether the patient has sleep apnea or another type of sleep disorder.

Other tests for sleep apnea include EEG, EMG, EOG, ECG, a snore microphone, and a nasal airflow sensor.

Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

Although anyone can develop sleep apnea, these factors can influence the risk:

  • Gender: Being male
  • Age: Being over 40 years old
  • Being overweight
  • Having a neck 17 inches or greater in circumference
  • Having large tonsils or a large tongue
  • Nasal obstruction including allergies or a deviated septum
  • A family history of sleep apnea

Complications of Sleep Apnea

If left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of:

Sleep apnea can also contribute to poor performance in daily activities, such as driving. A person with undiagnosed sleep apnea is at least 6 times more likely to have a car accident.

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to a number of ailments, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, vehicle or work-related accidents (caused by lack of sleep), and depression.

Weight loss, nasal decongestants, surgery, and certain lifestyle changes are effective ways to treat sleep apnea; however, the only definitive way to diagnose and treat the condition is through a sleep study and medical follow up. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, consult a medical professional.

Once diagnosed, your doctor may recommend a custom-fit mouthpiece designed to keep your airway open throughout the night. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines are also commonly prescribed for sleep apnea. Surgical intervention is a last resort for widening the air passageways and/or removal of the throat tissue causing the restriction.

The following tips can be applied to promote healthy sleep habits:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Nearly 70% of sleep apnea patients are overweight. Weight loss and management have been shown to improve the quality of sleep, helping to not only treat but prevent many sleep disorders.
  • Proper exercise. If exercising in the evening, avoid doing so 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Proper diet. For those with sleep apnea, it’s best to avoid consuming alcohol and caffeine before bed. It’s also recommended to avoid large meals at least three hours prior to bedtime.
  • Eliminate distractions in the bedroom. This includes things like television, computers, phones, bright lights, and the like.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep pattern. Maintain a good sleep schedule throughout the week and avoid long naps during the day.
  • Avoid airway obstruction. To avoid obstruction of the airways, sleep apnea patients should change the position in which they sleep (ie: sleep on their side rather than on their back).

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care Services

For those juggling many roles (family caregiver, professional, and parent), being on watch throughout the night can be difficult – and oftentimes impossible. For many, consulting the help of a home healthcare professional is a good option.

Care Options for Kids can help bring families peace of mind. We provide compassionate and competent caregivers to provide home care throughout the night, from a few hours to around-the-clock care.

If you or an aging loved one are considering home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.