April 17th, 2012 at 1:51 pm
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Elders need to be aware of sleep apnea’s hidden dangers

by Dorian Martin

About six years ago, Dad and I went on a trip to visit relatives. In order to save money, we decided to stay at a hotel that offered suites so we wouldn’t need two separate rooms. That night, I ended up on the couch while Dad claimed the bed. It wasn’t a very restful night for me. I don’t know which was worse — the hide-a-bed’s really bad springs or my 80-year-old father’s loud snoring. When we returned home, I pleaded with Dad to see a sleep doctor, who diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.

Dad knew he snored, but hadn’t realized his condition could be dangerous. Sleep apnea actually can lead to cardiovascular issues, daytime fatigue and complications with medications and surgery. In addition, people who live with someone with sleep apnea can be impacted since their sleep may be disturbed.

Sleep apnea overview

So what is sleep apnea? The Mayo Clinic defines sleep apnea as “a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly and you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep.” There are two types of sleep apnea.

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea. The most common form of sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles relax.
  2. Central sleep apnea. This type occurs when the brain doesn’t transmit signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include excessive daytime sleepiness, loud snoring, stopping breathing during sleep, abrupt awakening accompanied by shortness of breath, awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat, a morning headache and insomnia.

Sleep apnea is treatable

The good news is this condition can be treated. Milder cases can be treated by lifestyle changes, such as losing weight. Treatment for moderate and severe cases can include use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), adjustable airway pressure devices, oral appliances and surgery.

Dad’s doctor prescribed the CPAP, which has succeeded in stopping his snoring. And it turns out that the machine may be benefiting his heart, too. A recent study detailed how moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea can deform the heart through changing its size and thickening its walls, thus reducing the heart’s ability to pump blood. Interestingly, these British researchers found that using the CPAP for six months continuously can restore the patient’s heart’s size and function to near normal.

So if your elder snores, make sure that you encourage him to be tested for sleep apnea. The results may help everyone rest a lot easier!

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