One of the most vital parts of good health is a good night's sleep. Many seniors struggle to sleep well due to various health problems--pain, frequent urination, physical discomfort, insomnia, or even medication-related side effects. One of the dangerous physical threats to good sleep (and to health in general) is sleep apnea. This is a disorder which causes a range of pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses can go from short and generally harmless to life-threatening, if the brain is deprived of oxygen for long enough, or if someone does not get enough sleep over a long period of time.

Breathing restarts, sometimes with a snore or choking sound, which may cause sleep apnea sufferers to wake up. This means that sleep can be difficult to come by or not restful enough, as the brain is constantly struggling to breathe properly and is waking itself up repeatedly. Sleep-deprived seniors will often be tired, experience poor healing, and have higher blood pressure or added risk of stroke. They also risk the stress and anxiety caused by losing quality sleep.

Many seniors do not know they have sleep apnea. There is not a blood test or scan to detect it. Most people merely notice the symptoms. They experience restless or little sleep, troubled breathing that results in loud choking or snoring noises, and daytime fatigue. This fatigue can disrupt daytime routines and make it harder for the body to regulate its internal symptoms. It can result in lowering the effectiveness of medications and nutrition, making the lives of seniors that much more difficult.

Improving Sleep Quality

For many years, the best and most frequent treatment for severe sleep apnea was a mask which sat on the face during sleep. The machine (called CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine) is often loud, cumbersome, and uncomfortable. Sufferers of the disorder are less likely to sleep until they get comfortable with it. Unfortunately, some never truly do.

However, alternative treatments and technologies have come out that can improve the quality and safety of sleep for those with sleep apnea. Rather than wearing a CPAP mask, patients with sleep apnea now have other ways to ensure better quality sleep.

Sleep Apnea - Surgical Solution

A surgery which is fairly new and largely effective calls for the implantation of a battery and a wire into the chest leading up to the muscles in the mouth and throat. This setup senses the natural rate of breathing and promotes it during sleep. It can be turned on when the person falls asleep and switched off upon waking. By keeping obstructions out of the airway during sleep, this technology can prevent the sleep interruptions that cause sleep apnea to affect sleep quality. It is known as Inspire technology. A device is implanted into the soft palate and surrounding areas. It is useful for those whose bodies obstruct the airway more extensively.

There are concerns involving this new technology. Anything which requires surgery carries some risk of infection and complications. The insertion of a battery could require future surgery to repair or replace equipment. The equipment can also cause some irritation to the soft palate. Some patients simply cannot be properly fitted for the equipment and will need a CPAP machine regardless. However, when compared to a CPAP machine, many patients prefer an overall, one-and-done procedure over a daily (or, in this case, nightly) dependence upon a machine.

Mouthguards

Winx is another product that treats sleep apnea. The product consists of a small mouthpiece that goes into the mouth prior to sleep. It connects to a tube which allows a small console to change the pressure in the mouth. It pulls the soft palate and tongue in such a way that it stops obstructed breathing. This is a highly un-invasive technology, and much less cumbersome than a CPAP machine.

Both of these treatments are relatively new. While they have approval by scientists, doctors, and the FDA, a word of caution is in order. They will not "cure" sleep apnea. They merely manage the symptoms as well as equipment can. Patients have seen positive results, some of which can erase fatigue, stop headaches, and increase energy throughout the day.

It is best to consult a doctor whose expertise is in sleep and sleep disorders. Such a physician can help find the best solution for a sleep disorder.

Sources

Blocker, Kati. (December 18, 2015). UCHealth first in state to offer newest technology for sleep apnea. Coloradoan. Available at http://www.coloradoan.com/story/healthyu/2015/12/18/uchealth-first-in-state-to-offer-newest-technology-for-sleep-apnea/77558808/. Retrieved May 10, 2016.

Davis, Kristy. (May 5, 2014). UC Health to use new FDA-approved technology for sleep apnea. Cincinnati's WLWT5. Available at http://www.wlwt.com/news/uc-medical-center-to-use-new-fdaapproved-technology-for-sleep-apnea/25818396. Retrieved May 10, 2016.

DiSpirito, Lauren. (March 10, 2016). New Device Offers Additional Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea. CBS Denver. (Available at http://denver.cbslocal.com/2016/03/10/new-device-treatment-options-sleep-apnea/. Retrieved May 10, 2016.

National Institutes of Health. (July 10, 2012).What Is Sleep Apnea? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Available at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea. Retrieved May 10, 2016.

Ohio Sleep Medicine Institute. Winx--Sleep Apnea Therapy Without a Mask. Available at http://www.sleepmedicine.com/content.cfm?article=winx. Retrieved May 10, 2016.

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