Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Seniors

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What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea most commonly occurs when the muscles in the throat collapse during sleep. This blocks the airway and prevents oxygen from traveling throughout the body, causing the individual to gasp for air and wake up. These events, or apneas, can occur as frequently as 30 times per hour, disrupting sleep and leaving patients with lingering side effects. Additionally, long-term sleep apnea leaves most patients sleep-deprived, which causes lasting health issues.Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Seniors

How Does Obstructive Sleep Apnea Affect the Elderly?

Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders become more common with age.  Seniors may experience more daytime drowsiness and may become dependent on naps throughout the day to make up for sleep lost to the disorder.

Along with more frequent sleeping during the day, sleep apnea can have other lasting effects on seniors that may be assumed as a result of old age such as reduced response time,  memory and attention issues and a tendency for physical accidents such as falls.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Elderly

Sleep apnea symptoms among the elderly are similar to symptoms among sleep apnea patients of all ages.

  • Drowsy during the day
  • Waking up gasping for air at night
  • Frequent morning headaches
  • Dry mouth in the morning
  • Reduced concentration, memory, and attention
  • Mood swings, depression, or anxiety

Many senior patients may be overlooked as having sleep apnea by doctors mostly because old age brings about similar problems. Doctors may prescribe sleep medications rather than consider CPAP therapy for many seniors.

Complications of OSA in Elderly


Obstructive sleep apnea begins to impact cognitive function over time such as memory and attention. Seniors with an existing issue such as dementia may experience the disability more profoundly because of sleep loss from sleep apnea. Seniors with sleep apnea may begin to show signs of dementia as sleep apnea goes undiagnosed. Learn more about the link between dementia and sleep apnea.

Parkinson’s Disease

While the results are inconclusive, there is strong evidence that sleep apnea may lead to Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, sleep apnea reduces oxygenation to the brain, which over time can stimulate a specific protein alpha-synuclein in the blood. This elevated protein level becomes toxic and begins the degenerative process. Learn more about Parkinson’s and sleep apnea.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Most Alzheimer’s patients experience some type of sleep disorder. Because brain health is so dependent on good sleep, sleep lost through obstructive sleep apnea can be debilitating for seniors suffering with this condition. If a senior has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, sleep apnea can amplify the symptoms and increase the degenerative aspects of the disease.

How to Diagnose Obstructive Sleep Apnea in The Elderly?


Polysomnography is an in-lab sleep study that can diagnose obstructive sleep apnea and determine its severity. The test requires an overnight stay in a lab where equipment that monitors sleep patterns is affixed to the patient.

In-lab studies can evaluate breathing patterns, brain waves, and oxygen saturation levels during the overnight stay.

At-Home Sleep Test

Fortunately, at-home sleep tests can provide accurate results in the comfort of a senior’s own bed. They are the preferred option over a polysomnography for seniors who do not want to participate in a lab study. Here is how a home sleep test works:

  1. With the Complete Care Package, schedule a 15-minute telehealth visit with a healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms, upcoming sleep study, test results, and treatment options.
  2. A multi-night, disposable home sleep apnea test is mailed to your home to be completed at your convenience.
  3. A physician analyzes the sleep data and provides a prescription if needed.
  4. Schedule an optional follow-up appointment (additional fee applies).
  5. We connect you to sleep experts who can offer customized sleep therapy options, assistance in equipment purchase, and initial set-up.

Order a Home Sleep Test Today!

How is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treated in The Elderly?


Like most sleep apnea patients, seniors can be treated using CPAP or BiPAP machines. PAP therapy using these types of machines nightly is the most common approach for managing sleep apnea.

CPAP machines or continuous positive air pressure machines use pressurized air pumped through a mask to ensure that the airway stays open while sleeping.

BiPAP machines or bilevel positive air pressure machines work the same way except they use two different air pressure settings instead of the one provided by CPAP. BiPAP machines are often for use when regular CPAP machines are too uncomfortable for the user.

You can find both types of machines at The CPAP Shop. You can explore leading brands of both machines and receive the help of their expert staff online.


In some severe cases of sleep apnea, the patient may have to undergo surgery. Surgical procedures are always the last choice when options such as CPAP therapy do not work. Surgery is often a recommdation when abnormalities in the airway, tongue, or throat muscles are the root cause of the sleep apnea.


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