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Many seniors have undiagnosed sleep apnea

June 8, 2018—Many older adults could have a sleep disorder that disrupts their nightly sleep and potentially puts their health at risk. And yet they may not even know they have the condition, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests.

That disorder is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It happens when the throat collapses during sleep, causing a person's breathing to stop and start up again several times a night. Untreated OSA may increase the risk for several health problems. It's linked with high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and depression.

People with OSA often snore loudly and feel tired during the day. A choking sound may interrupt their breathing at night. And some may feel irritable and depressed.

Some seniors with sleep apnea may mistake their symptoms for normal signs of aging, the research suggests. It found that more than half of the seniors studied were at high risk for sleep apnea. But only about 8 percent of these people had an overnight sleep study to find out if they had the disorder.

The findings suggest a big opportunity for seniors and their doctors to talk about sleep apnea and the potential need for testing. With a proper diagnosis, more seniors could get treatment and feel better, according to the study's authors.

OSA is often treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. During sleep, a bedside CPAP machine sends pressurized air through the nose or nose and mouth to the throat to keep the airway open.

Could you have a sleep disorder?

Sleep apnea is common in younger people too. Check out our sleep assessment, and talk with your doctor about the results.

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