What Seniors Must Know About Sleep Apnea
Do you suddenly wake up gasping for breath in the middle of the night? Do you snore? Do you feel tired in the morning or during the day, even if as far as you know it you’ve had a good night’s rest? Then you may have sleep apnea. But what, exactly, is sleep apnea?
In obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissues in the mouth and throat collapse and block the airway during sleep.
In central sleep apnea, what stops the breathing is the brain’s failure to signal the body to breathe at regular intervals.
Whichever the variety, this temporary stoppage of breathing happens several times on a typical night, with each period lasting as long as 2 minutes. You don’t notice it because you’re asleep. However, you can suffer the effects of oxygen deprivation: high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, stroke and heart attack. Also, because your sleep is interrupted into fragments, you don’t wake up refreshed the next morning, leaving you extremely tired or sleepy during the day.
Sleep apnea affects 20% of seniors in the US, and its health effects can be serious.
Severe sleepiness during the day
People with sleep apnea, regardless of age, naturally find it difficult to stay awake during the day. They are constantly in the fog of sleepiness, leaving them unable to effectively perform daily tasks.
Having sleep apnea is tricky for seniors, as sleepiness and other symptoms are generally considered “normal” aspects of aging. Also, sleeping often during the day, which one may do if they are effected by sleep apnea, can increase the risk of serious falls.
Sleep apnea mistaken as dementia
It is common for sleep apnea to be misdiagnosed as dementia. A senior may consult with a doctor regarding “waning attention,” or diminishing mental faculties: they could not just follow the twists and turns of any television show, or even simple conversations leave them out of the loop. Though this sounds like dementia, it is also a common symptom of sleep apnea, and if misdiagnosed will go untreated while it continues to negatively affect the senior's health.
The risk of sudden cardiac death
Researchers found that people with sleep apnea run a higher risk of experiencing cardiac arrest in their sleep.
The actual severity of the sleep apnea also has a direct correlation to the likelihood of death from an overnight cardiac arrest. While in normal people, the period of sleep is considered a relatively stress-free condition as sleep minimizes the stress that usually triggers heart attacks, it is the opposite with those suffering from sleep apnea, as sleeping actually puts stress on the cardiovascular system.
The bottom line: if you have the classic symptoms of sleep apnea, don’t dismiss it as “just a sleeping problem.” It is a serious condition that could have severe consequences when left untreated, especially for seniors. Talk to your doctor today about things you can do to live with your sleep apnea, such as medical alert systems, lifestyle changes, and diet changes.