Addressing Sleep Apnea in the Elderly

Addressing Sleep Apnea in the Elderly

Sleep Apnea in the Elderly

There is a great debate as to who is at risk for sleep apnea and when a sleeping disorder test is actually necessary, and in the elderly, it turns out that more than half are currently suffering from sleep apnea. Here’s the thing: the odds of developing sleep apnea increase with age and more than 50% of adults over the age of 65 are suffering from some form of sleep apnea. This would explain the issues that many elderly individuals have that include difficulty sleeping, trouble in maintaining sleep, and a lower amount of nightly sleep. The studies have shown that different age ranges suffer from sleep apnea. Take a look at this brief chart:

  • 20-44 Years – 3.2%
  • 45-64 Years – 11.3%
  • 61-100 Years – 18.1%

There are many theories associated with this increase, but for the most part, it is thought that the rise of sleep apnea in the elderly is a direct result of increased fatty deposits in the parapharyngeal area (head/neck), as well as the lengthening of the soft palate. There are also changes in the body structure to be taken into account, all of which you should discuss with your physician.

The rate becomes increased in women as they age as well, especially those who are post-menopausal and decline to take hormone replacement medication such as estradiol. This is another instance where weight gain could be to blame, as menopause does incite it, along with hormonal changes. The silver lining, however, is that one study showed that while the likelihood of sleep apnea increases with age, the severity of it will actually decrease, meaning you will have less to worry about in the way of heart attack or stroke. Still, it can take quite a toll on the body over the years, making it necessary to seek lifestyle changes and keep the condition at bay.

An Elusive Diagnosis

Here’s a really good question that many people have, and rightly so, as a matter of fact: why does it seem so difficult to diagnose sleep apnea in the elderly? What’s the deal? In a patient that is suffering from OSA, it can always be difficult to determine that the problem actually exists for a few reasons. There is no blood test that will reveal the condition, as we have mentioned many times before, and usually, the symptoms are only detected by a third party. The symptoms are lessened in the elderly, making it nearly impossible to detect. When we’re looking for risk factors and a reason for a home insomnia test, we are most typically looking at the following:

  • BMI
  • Neck Circumference
  • Obesity
  • Snoring

These traditional risk factors are often absent in the elderly, making diagnostics more than a bit of a challenge. The significant lack of symptoms leads to the more troublesome issues including congestive heart failure, stroke, coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation, and much more. In the elderly population, these are the leading causes of death, and it can all be easily traced back to sleep apnea – almost undetectable in the elderly.

In many cases, the condition will be mis-diagnosed, and improper self-reporting will definitely lead to the wrong treatment, which is why it is so vitally important for physicians to pay attention and apply the right course of treatment. As you can see, there are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration, and at the end of the day, the physician needs to rely on more than habit and pay close attention to the patient.

In the end, testing will become necessary, and at-home tests can help to determine whether or not the patient is suffering from sleep apnea. If you are in one of the elderly age brackets and you suspect that you might have sleep apnea, ask yourself if you are suffering from any of the textbook symptoms, and if not, and if you still suspect that you might have sleep apnea, then go ahead and ask your doctor to order the test. You have nothing to lose, and it may very well be one of the best things you ever do.


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