Sleep apnea is a condition that can seriously impact the health and wellness of elderly adults. Sleep apnea, or the interruption of breathing while asleep, is tough to diagnose. Often, family caregivers and senior care providers are the ones to notice the symptoms in the aging adult and recommend a visit to the doctor. Without treatment, sleep apnea can cause considerable negative health issues for elderly adults.
Here are some frequently asked questions about sleep apnea in elderly adults:
Q: What exactly is sleep apnea?
A: Sleep apnea means that the person stops breathing temporarily and frequently during sleep. When the soft tissues in the throat, mouth and nasal passages relax during sleep, they can close together to block air flow. Air must be forced through the tissues, and often it is blocked until the person stirs and gasps for breath without waking up.
Q: Does snoring mean they have sleep apnea?
A: While snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, it isn’t always a sure sign. It’s normal for people to snort and softly snore during sleep occasionally. Medical experts consider sleep apnea to be the cessation of breathing for at least 10 seconds or longer at least 5 times per hour. Elderly people usually do not remember apnea episodes because they are asleep.
Q: What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
A: Family caregivers and senior care providers are more likely to notice the symptoms of sleep apnea in the elderly person they care for. Common symptoms include loud snoring, frequent snoring interrupted by moments of silence, moaning and mumbling during sleep or gasp for breath while sleeping. Other symptoms include daytime fatigue, excessive sleepiness, lack of concentration, irritability, morning headaches and dry mouth.
Q: Why is sleep apnea bad for the health?
A: Sleep apnea interrupts the flow of oxygen throughout the body and puts stress on several organs, like the lungs and the heart. Over time and without treatment, sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, depression, chronic illnesses and even early death.
Q: What if family caregivers or senior care providers think an elderly person may have sleep apnea?
A: If a family caregiver or senior care provider suspects that someone may be struggling with sleep apnea, they should arrange for a doctor’s appointment. A doctor can start the process of diagnosing sleep apnea via sleep tests and then organizing a treatment.
Q: How is sleep apnea diagnosed and treated in seniors?
A: Diagnosis is based on the results of several sleep tests, including sleeping with devices that monitor oxygen saturation in the blood and recording interruptions. Seniors may also be referred to a sleep specialist and spend time at a sleep disorder center. Depending on the results, elderly adults with sleep apnea may need to use breathing assistive devices at night to ensure proper airflow and get a good night’s sleep once again.