Sleep Apnea in Seniors – Recognizing Symptoms Early

As we age our patterns of sleep change. These changes have led to the false belief that during this life stage we need less sleep or that we should expect poor quality sleep. Nothing could be further from the truth. High quality sleep is important. It is restorative both mentally and physically and gifts us the opportunity to enjoy life to its fullest.

Everyone Needs Sleep

Though the structure of our sleep changes (going to bed earlier, awakening earlier, and generally experiencing lighter sleep) we should expect high-quality sleep throughout our lives. When we have difficulty sleeping or recognize that lack of sleep is negatively affecting our lives, this is a sign that something is out of balance and we should take action.

Sleep Apnea: 7 Obvious Signs

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by reduced airflow during sleep (shallow breathing or no breathing at all). It is easy to recognize the symptoms if you are sleeping next to someone with sleep apnea. You might hear frequent loud snoring and gasping for air.

But if you aren’t there at night, you can still recognize the following symptoms:


  • Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Decrease in cognitive function – memory, concentration, attention, verbal and motor skills.
  • Headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Waking during the night to urinate
  • Irritability
  • Heartburn


Who Is More at Risk?

There are two main types of sleep apnea known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). Obstructive sleep apnea is due to a blockage in the airway where central sleep apnea is due to a problem with the brain carrying messages to the respiratory muscles.

We’ve outlined some of the primary causes for each type, so that you can know if you, or a loved one is more at risk.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea


  • Obesity
  • Large neck circumference
  • Narrow airway
  • Male
  • Elderly – incidence increases as we age
  • Medication, Alcohol, Depressants
  • Smoking


Central Sleep Apnea


  • Elderly
  • Heart Disorders
  • Pain Medication use
  • Stroke


Another way we can verify that sleep apnea is the problem is to look at some of the conditions that sleep apnea causes. If a patient who is at risk has symptoms and also has one or more of the following conditions, then we know sleep apnea is more likely.


  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Problems
  • Diabetes
  • Complications with anesthesia and surgery
  • Liver problems

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

Typically a visit to your physician and lifestyle modification is the first step in treatment and involves addressing the common causes of sleep apnea. Weight loss, alcohol and smoking cessation, and changing sleeping position are all good initial starting points.

If changes in lifestyle are not successful, there are some additional treatments to consider:

  1. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy – a continuous stream of air provides constant airway pressure that keeps the airway open through a mask.
  2. Surgery – There are many office-based and traditional surgical options available.
  3. Mandibular repositioning devices – usually a dental device to reposition the jaw and open the airway, providing increased space and improved air exchange.

Untreated sleep apnea is a common and treatable condition. When our loved one struggles with sleep we should look deeper with care and concern. Their mental and physical well-being depend on it.

If you think you or a loved one could have sleep apnea, see a physician to confirm and help resolve the issue immediately.