Symptoms related to unrecognized sleep apnea

Sleep apnea becomes more prevalent with age. This relationship exists without weight gain. In other words, older adults may develop sleep apnea even if they are not overweight whatsoever. Unfortunately, in addition, many older adults live alone, and despite the fact that they have apneas, they are unaware. So how would an older adult know whether they should be tested for sleep apnea or not? To answer this question, an investigation recently examined the common factors present in older individuals who have sleep apnea but do not know it.

A multitude of measurements were obtained from a group of over 1000 individuals who reported never having been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Their body mass index (BMI), medication use, mood and sleepiness measures were gathered during a clinical interview. Additionally, cardiac measures, including blood pressure and hypertension diagnosis, were obtained. Finally, all participants underwent an overnight sleep study to assess the presence and severity of sleep apnea.

The group of individuals tested was an average age of 69 years old. In this group, 9.2% did not have sleep apnea (less than 5 apneas/hypopneas per hour), 35% had mild sleep apnea (5-15 per hour), 33% had moderate sleep apnea (15-30 per hour), and 27% had severe sleep apnea (more than 30 per hour). Didn’t we tell you that sleep apnea is very prevalent in older adults? The participants who rated themselves as more sleepy were more likely to have sleep apnea – the sleepier the individual, the more severe the apnea. Additionally, individuals with sleep apnea were more likely to be male, have a higher BMI, have hypertension, and have higher blood pressure.

Overall, if you are in the older age range, and you have symptoms of high blood pressure, sleepiness, and the like, you may want to undergo a sleep study. Even if you do not have an elevated BMI, it is still worth it! The body undergoes a lot of changes that make it more susceptible to apneas with increased age, so protect your body and brain by getting treated and staying treated if necessary! Finally, spread the word to others who may be of advanced age.

Source: Sforza, E., Pichot, V., Saint Martin, M., Barthélémy, J. C., & Roche, F. (2015). Prevalence and determinants of subjective sleepiness in healthy elderly with unrecognized Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Sleep Medicine. (Online Pre-publication).

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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