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Do I have sleep apnea?

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, more than 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. With that number, 80 percent of the cases go undiagnosed. In seniors, 11.3% of adults age 61-100 have sleep apnea. That’s quite a large number, considering there are over 46 million adults over 60 in America. In assisted living communities, sixty-five percent of participants reported clinically significant sleep disturbance, according to a study.

What is sleep apnea?

As stated by Wikipedia, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. In a nutshell, sleep apnea happens because of numerous reasons, like fatty tissue blocking airways and preventing oxygen from getting into the respiratory system and carbon dioxide from leaving it. This form of sleep apnea is the most common for and is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Another type is the result of the brain failing to send signals to the body that regulate breathing. This type is called central sleep apnea (CSA). There’s also a third, rarer, type called mixed sleep apnea, where both OSA and CSA are prevalent.

What causes sleep apnea?

In the more common variety of sleep apnea, OSA, there are many factors for a sleep specialist to consider before diagnosing someone with the disorder. OSA can affects anyone despite their age, sex, age, or race. However, factors that increase risk are: excessive weight, being male, large neck size, above the age of 40, small jaw bone, enlarged tongue or tonsils, allergies, gastroesophageal reflux, deviated septum, sinus issues, a family history or sleep apnea, and more.

If you’re a smoker your chances of having OSA are three times higher than that of a non-smoker. Drinking alcohol, taking tranquilizers, or taking sedatives may also relax sleep muscles, causing sleep apnea.

The main risks of getting CSA are: being above the age of 65, being male, have had a stroke, or having certain heart disorders.

What are the Symptoms?

Sleep apnea can affect anyone: children, adults, and seniors. It can affect those in independent living, assisted living, or memory care. However, sleep apnea is a challenging thing to diagnose in people, especially seniors. This is due to the majority of the obvious symptoms happening during the sleeping hours, so people generally don’t even realize that something is wrong. People also may contribute other daytime symptoms to something else, when in fact, it’s sleep apnea.

Symptoms can include: loud snoring, feeling sleepy during the daytime, moodiness, morning headaches, and abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath. These by no means are all the possible symptoms, but rather the most common. Seeking medical advice if any of these symptoms sound familiar is the first step to being diagnosed.

Are there any adverse health issues from sleep apnea?

Yes, there are many adverse health issues from OSA and CSA. Besides keeping your partner awake and being tired throughout the day (among other things), OSA and CSA have been known to be sneaky in the health problems they can contribute to.

OSA and CSA have been known to increase blood pressure or heart problems. It does this by cutting of the oxygen levels to the body. It’s also been known that people with OSA or CSA have a higher change to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. It can also cause problems with surgeries due to being unconscious during surgery and depleting the fresh oxygen supply to the body, which is needed in excess during and after a surgery. There are more, but if that wasn’t enough, your partner might not enjoy the sound of snoring all throughout the night. This alone may be reason enough to get in to your doctor and talk about sleep apnea.

How can it be treated?

If you want to limit your chance of getting OSA, simple lifestyle changes could be all you need. Managing a healthy weight is a good way to combat OSA. Quitting smoking and/or drinking alcohol can also help to minimize the risk of getting OSA. If you don’t smoke, just being around someone who smokes may also cause problems due to secondhand smoke. You can also try putting a humidifier in your bedroom to help keep your nasal passages clear. This may help to an extent.

If you’re diagnosed with OSA or CSA you probably already know about continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine uses a nose-piece, or mask, to deliver a constant and steady stream of air into your airways, via a hose. This constant pressure ensures that the fatty tissue that obstructs your airway is kept open and air is allowed to flow freely in and out of your body. There are tons of different models of CPAP machines, different fittings, hoses, attachments, etc. It can as complicated or as simplistic as you need or want.

These devices has been shown to have an instantaneous positive effect on OSA. Although, the user may feel claustrophobic due to the mask covering a good portion of their face. Having a talk with your doctor about these concerns and the options available to you can help.


If you’re living in a Bonaventure senior living community, then asking the nurse, resident care coordinator, or med-aide, about sleep apnea can begin your journey to better sleep quality and reduced health risks. They can point you in the direction of qualified professionals.

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