Community Blog

Seniors with Sleep Apnea at Higher Risk for Additional Health Issues

By Debbie Humphrey

When my husband was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I took some time to learn more about it. His snoring and choking noises had certainly awakened and alarmed me enough times that I felt compelled to learn more to support him and his use of the C-PAP machine.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.”

While we are sleeping, our brains go through self-maintenance to realign pathways for us to think and learn; and our heart and blood vessels experience periods of repair that can help guard against high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and stroke.

Statistics indicate that as many as 20 million Americans suffer from this condition, which includes seniors with sleep apnea. So what happens when we are sleep-deprived or suffer from sleep interruption and deficiencies?

Sleep apnea is described as a disorder in which people experience periods of sleep disruption when the tongue and soft palate narrow the air passages to the point that breathing pauses or stops for anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. It can happen as many as 30 times or more each hour, which significantly interrupts a normal sleep pattern. As airways narrow or become blocked, oxygen levels decrease.

Those with sleep apnea may not even realize this is happening, because breathing does return to normal throughout the sleep cycle, usually with snoring and choking sounds, like my husband.

Moreover, another important study cited on was conducted by researchers at University of California at San Francisco. It found a connection between sleep apnea and women diagnosed with dementia. Published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study of 298 female participants over the age of 65, (without dementia when the study started), showed nearly one-third of the group developed dementia over the course of the study. The researchers concluded that the disruption of sleep was not seemingly the cause of the onset of dementia, but it was the reduced flow of oxygen that was identified as the culprit of their memory loss.

Furthermore, stroke survivors often experience sleep apnea. “According to a leading researcher and physician in the field of sleep-disordered breathing, Mark E. Dyken, MD, University of Iowa, identified a high rate of sleep apnea in stroke survivors (that) ‘requires aggressive assessment.’ Because data suggests that rehabilitation outcomes may be worse in people who have sleep apnea after a stroke, it is of particular importance to identify it.”

Moreover, following each apnea episode, doctors report a surge in heart rate and blood pressure. With the drops in oxygen levels during the apnea, sufferers are found to have higher blood pressure and are more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease, congestive heart failure, transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), and stroke.

You may not be aware you have sleep apnea, unless you frequently awaken feeling like you need a nap, or you feel fatigued and it is more challenging to make simple decisions. There are ways to treat the condition, such as with positive airway pressure (PAP) devices that use nasal masks to deliver a gentle, pressurized airflow that supports the throat muscles during sleep, thereby improving oxygen levels.

I can honestly attest that the PAP device my husband uses regularly for his sleep apnea has certainly made a difference in both of our activities of daily living! Yet, stroke survivors and dementia patients may not readily see the benefit of treating their sleep apnea, especially when other physical and mental concerns seemingly take precedent.

That being said, with proper oversight by family, caregivers and medical professionals, the use of PAP applications are more readily accepted by the patient, and the benefits – although typically unrecognized by the sufferer – will undoubtedly demonstrate improvements in rehabilitation, therapy, and activities of daily living. What I found most compelling? Treatment of sleep apnea lowers the risks of a second stroke and other health and heart-related medical conditions.

If you know someone who experiences sleep apnea, has suffered a stroke, or contends with other health and heart-related issues, Home Helpers® is available 24/7/365, to monitor their sleep cycles, perform light housework, run errands, prepare meals, remind about medications, and provide transportation assistance to and from doctor, rehab and therapy appointments. I invite you to check out our new Safe Wheelchair Transport Service, too, with same day service when available. I am more than happy to offer whatever resources I have at my disposal, along with a FREE consultation to discuss and assess your loved one’s specific needs.

Home Helpers® is honored to have received the Provider of Choice 2017 & 2018 awards from Home Care Pulse, and we proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson, and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠ 727.942.2539


National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute