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March 6, 2018

Sleep apnea in the senior living years should be diagnosed and treated

By: Country Meadows | Wellness

Despite common belief to the contrary, retirees need as much sleep as younger adults. Research shows that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which has established March 11-17, 2018 as National Sleep Awareness Week. 

However, it’s true that older persons often get less sleep or experience insomnia. Anxiety, medications, restless leg syndrome, nighttime bathroom visits, and sleep apnea can keep seniors from getting a good night’s sleep. We will focus here on sleep apnea, but feel free to check out our earlier blog on sleep problems in seniors.

Sleep apnea has consequences for retirees’ physical and mental health

Sleep apnea occurs in seniors who stop breathing briefly during sleep when their airways become blocked. This can happen throughout the night, leading to severe disruption of the sleep cycle, lack of deep sleep and stress on the heart.

Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, weight gain, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and diabetes, as well as anxiety, depression, lack of concentration and memory loss.

As people age, their chances of developing sleep apnea increase. The National Institute on Aging says that more than half of seniors over age 65 report sleep problems or daytime drowsiness, which can indicate sleep apnea.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that older women with sleep apnea are more than twice as likely to develop dementia as those without sleep apnea. The duration of lower oxygen levels was likely responsible for the women’s memory loss.

Diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea can improve senior living

Unfortunately, sleep apnea in seniors often goes undiagnosed. One reason is that many seniors live alone, and no one hears their nighttime breathing. Sometimes, sleep apnea is dismissed as just snoring. But the possibility of sleep apnea in seniors should not be considered an inevitable part of aging, and it can be treated during sleep with a CPAP* machine or mandibular advancement device (fitted onto the teeth to move the lower jaw forward to open the airway).

At Country Meadows Retirement Communities, we know that continuous, restful sleep is important for good health. If a resident in senior independent living or personal care/assisted living has sleep issues, we encourage him or her to talk with a physician.

The only way to determine whether someone has sleep apnea is through a sleep study. Through our rehab partner, Genesis Rehab Services, we are piloting a portable sleep testing program at four campuses. Through an at-home program using a pulse ox, nasal canula and chest wall unit, residents are viewed in their most natural sleep setting to collect more accurate results. Genesis provides access to a board-certified sleep physician who reviews the results and communicates with the resident’s primary care physician. Upon success, we plan to roll this out to all our campuses and may make it available to our co-workers too.

Senior living communities help safeguard the health of older persons

At Country Meadows, we tend to all areas of our residents’ health, offering memory support and restorative care for residents who would benefit from those services. If you are looking for support for an older person’s health at a senior retirement community near you, we ask you to contact us. We would be glad to have you visit any of our senior communities and introduce you to our broad range of services. We have 10 senior living communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland—in Lancaster, Hershey, Mechanicsburg, Pittsburgh, Wyomissing, York-South, York-West, Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, PA and in Frederick, MD.

*Continuous positive airway pressure


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