Seniors with sleep apnea, which is a common interruption of good, restful sleep, have limited choices about how they can treat their condition. Seniors, especially those wishing to age in place, have to treat their sleep apnea with something, however, since poor sleep poses many health risks. Lack of sound sleep is associated with slow healing, cognitive decline, and fatigue.
Sleep apnea involves pauses in breathing as a person sleeps, or it may involve shallow breathing while slumbering. Obstructive sleep apnea is the usual manifestation of the problem; the air passages experience blockage of some sort as the person sleeps, or, in some cases, they collapse. As the person sucks in breath, snoring results.
A less usual form of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, where the breathing signals the brain sends to the rest of the body are irregular. There is no snoring with central sleep apnea, but it is the rarest form of the problem of interrupted or shallow sleep due to breathing irregularities.
Poor sleep poses many health risks. Lack of sound sleep is associated with slow healing, cognitive decline, and fatigue.
To get higher-quality sleep, seniors with obstructive sleep apnea do have options. The most common method used is a CPAP machine. This is a machine that requires a typically-uncomfortable mask and a loud bedside console. Many of the people who use a CPAP machine do not like it since the mask takes so much getting used to. The tubing restricts comfortable movement and position changes during sleep as well. The machine can keep them or their partners awake at night due to the noise. The drawbacks of the CPAP machine have seniors searching for other options, and they do have some. One option is Winx, a technology developed by Apnicure.
Winx works fairly simply: by creating a negative pressure in specific areas of the mouth, a small mouthpiece can stop obstructions that cause sleep apnea. The mouthpiece connects to a small tube, which connects to a machine that creates this negative pressure. This mouthpiece is removable, meaning that it need only be worn during sleep. Its small size makes it much more comfortable to wear during sleep than a CPAP mask for many users. As it is worn, small amounts of saliva are gathered from the mouthpiece and deposited into a canister, which can be removed and cleaned daily. The body's natural response to wearing a mouthpiece is to drool slightly more than usual. By removing this saliva, Winx prevents further obstructions and discomfort.
According to Sleep Review, Winx works for almost all patients with obstructive sleep apnea. It is best suited for those with a lower body mass index (BMI), since a higher BMI can itself disrupt sleep, but is still usable for those whose BMI might be higher than average. There is also a dental concern; older adults with severe dental issues may find that the mouthpiece only increases their discomfort or pain, so consulting with a dentist is a good step before deciding whether or not to use Winx technology. However, compared to competitors, this technology seems to cause fewer dental issues, since the mouthpiece is small, soft, and flexible.
One major concern before using Winx is that many insurance companies do not cover Winx right now. For many seniors and especially for low-income seniors, this is a huge challenge to getting the product. Winx does offer a full refund if, after the first thirty days, it is not effective at treating obstructive sleep apnea, which can help seniors and their loved ones feel more confident in purchasing it out-of-pocket. The fact remains, though, that many seniors may have a hard time paying for this technology. This is something to consider when discussing options with a senior and his or her physician, as well as with an insurance company. It is possible, of course, that insurance will come to cover Winx technology in the future.
Studies are showing that Winx is not universally effective. Only about one third of patients, according to one study published inSleep, saw large improvements in their sleep apnea when they used Winx. However, most subjects did see some improvement, which means more restful sleep for most people who use it. According to Sleep-Doctor.com, Apnicure, the maker of the Winx technology, is working to improve the model in order to create even more effective treatment.
This technology is available through a physician, so if family members or caregivers notice that an elderly person is suffering from sleep apnea and is not happy with a CPAP machine, they may want to inquire about using Winx. Seniors' sleep quality should be monitored and any necessary treatments undertaken under the advisement of a doctor.
Apnicure.com. (2016). About Winx. Available at http://apnicure.com/about/. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
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