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Sleep Apnea Triggers Changes That Can Kill, Research Suggests

Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous condition that can rob seniors of their health and even their lives. Home care assistance at night can help give older adults and their family caregivers peace of mind.


Q.    My 80-year-old father was diagnosed with sleep apnea, but he refuses to follow-up with the doctor for treatment. He says it’s no big deal. Is that true? I worry about him alone at night.


Sleep apnea can in fact be a very serious disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea decreases blood flow to the brain, elevates blood pressure within the brain and eventually harms the brain’s ability to modulate these changes and prevent damage to itself, according to a new study. That fact may help explain why people with sleep apnea – many of them senior citizens – are more likely to suffer strokes and to die in their sleep.


It is estimated that one in 10 seniors has sleep apnea, which becomes more common as people age. 


The study, conducted by researchers at Yale University and appearing in an issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology published by The American Physiological Society, identified the mechanism behind stroke in patients with sleep apnea. During sleep apnea episodes, the upper airway becomes blocked, hindering or stopping breathing and causing blood oxygen levels to drop and blood pressure to rise. The person eventually awakens and begins breathing, restoring normal blood oxygen and blood flow to the brain.


Ordinarily, the brain regulates its blood flow to meet its own metabolic needs, even in the face of changes in blood pressure. This study found that the repeated surges and drops in blood pressure and blood flow during numerous apnea episodes each night reduces the brain’s ability to regulate these functions.


Why not make another attempt to talk to your father. If you think it would help, show him this study. Seniors often report that nighttime is the most frightening time, especially when they’re home alone. Perhaps you as well as your dad could use a little reassurance at night.


If so, Home Instead Senior Care® might be the answer. The local office hires CAREGiversSM to serve as companions to seniors, helping them with their non-medical needs such as meal preparation, light housekeeping, medication reminders, errands and shopping, and caregiving at night. Many Home Instead male and female CAREGivers are seniors themselves and serve as popular caretakers to older adults since they share many of the same interests.


 For more about the study, log on to