My uncle Charlie could snore the shingles off the roof of every house in his neighborhood and then some. He was the nicest man on the planet but his loud, uneven, vibratory breathing was a nighttime nuisance for everyone within earshot and a source of amusement for my brother and me growing up. In our young minds the cartoonish vision of the shingles above flapping up and down with each inhalation and exhalation would dissolve us to fits of childish giggles every time we visited his home.
But the sad and serious truth is that Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is no laughing matter and probably contributed to his cardiac issues, diabetes and history of strokes. In short, OSA most likely shortened his life span.
OSA affects all age groups but it is a more common, and certainly an unwelcome guest in the elderly. According to Dr. Steven Park, Clinical Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, New York Medical College and author of Sleep Interrupted, a book that revels the number one reason why so many of us are sick and tired, "It's estimated that in 30- to 35-year-olds, 20 percent of men and 5 percent of women snore. But by age 60, 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women snore. Knowing that about 35 percent of habitual snorers are found to have obstructive sleep apnea, if you are over 60 and you snore, you'll have a 1 in 5 chance that you may have obstructive sleep apnea."
Sleep apnea isn't simply a noise problem. Snoring is a symptom of a bigger issue. Besides contributing to the overall fatigue of sufferers, there are several serious health complications that are linked to OSA, like hypertension, diabetes, depression, anxiety, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Fatigue can also lower a person's pain threshold, an important issue for those recovering from surgery, dealing with chronic health issues, or battling cancer. Dr. Park says, "Another thing that one needs to consider is that fatigue, poor focus and irritability can sometimes be attributed to dementia and that treating any sleep-breathing problem may improve some or all of those symptoms too."
Unfortunately, OSA may not land near the top of the priority list for your loved one's doctor. This is especially true if there are other major medical problems that require evaluation and treatment, as these may overshadow OSA ssues.