by: Alex Deckard
Your parents aren’t just tired. They may be suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea, a condition that is currently affecting 22 million Americans. However, as people age the risk for developing this sleep disorder increases. Know how to identify and help manage the symptoms to save your loved one’s life.
Recognition and Diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Older Americans conducted a study that found only 8% of senior participants 65 and older had been tested for sleep apnea while 58% were at high risk.
As the aging population continues to grow older the rate of undiagnosed sleep apnea will also increase. Over the next 11 years, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day, causing 18% of the population to be 65 or older by 2030. But why does it matter if your loved one has sleep apnea?
The Dangers Of Sleep Apnea For Seniors
Sleep apnea could lead to premature death as it contributes to a variety of health diminishing conditions. If your parent has sleep apnea, they may suffer from their upper airway becoming fully or partially blocked multiple times during the night. As a result, they are unable to pull in the oxygen their body needs to properly function.
When left untreated sleep apnea can lead to:
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Traffic Accidents
- Weight Gain
As your parent or patient experiences an apnea or event in which their breathing stops during the night, they may not even wake up or remember this event. This means that they can have sleep apnea without even knowing it. Oftentimes people are unaware that they are suffering in their sleep unless they are filmed sleeping or alerted by their partner that they are snoring very loudly. Keep an out for the following symptoms if you think your loved one may be at risk.
- Waking up with headaches
- Excessive fatigue
- Irritability and Mood Swings
- Weight gain
- Trouble Concentrating
- Waking with a sore throat or dry mouth
- Gasping for air upon waking
Aging isn’t the only thing that increases your parent’s risk for sleep apnea. Other contributing factors include:
- Being male
- Being post-menopausal (for women)
- Having a neck circumference of 17” or more (16” for women)
- Having a thin narrow neck or small jaw bone
- Having a large tongue or tonsils
- Drinking alcohol close to bedtime
- Nasal obstruction caused by allergies, sinus issues, or a deviated symptom
Caring For A Senior With Sleep Apnea
The most important thing to do if you think your loved one has sleep apnea, is contact their doctor for advice. Your parent may need to take a sleep study or sleep apnea test, but it doesn’t have to be a hassle. Many providers offer a comfortable, at-home test they can take in their own bed.
If you find yourself helping manage sleep apnea for an older relative or as a caregiver, you may help them use a CPAP or continuous positive airway device to keep their airways open during the night.
Even Though CPAP machines are the most effective way to treat sleep apnea, they have the reputation among the older generation of being cumbersome. It may take some convincing to get your parent to use one, so be prepared to explain how important it is for their health.
They may need a little help getting used to the device as well, but will need to use it even during naps to comply with their treatment. You can have them try a few different types of CPAP masks to help them find the most comfortable option. A nasal mask is smaller and more lightweight than a full face mask. However, if your loved one is congested make sure they use their face mask to help break up congestion.
To make a CPAP more comfortable have your parent wear the mask for a few hours before bedtime at first. Start with a lower air pressure and gradually work their way up to the settings prescribed by their doctor. Also, helping them sleep in a better position for breathing, such as on their side is extremely helpful.
Don’t Ignore The Signs
If your parent seems excessively fatigued, seems to be yawning all the time, is confused or forgetful, they may not be getting the rest they desperately need. Have them test for sleep apnea in order to take the steps towards getting their quality of life back.