Older Adults With Sleep Disorder Use More Healthcare Services
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep problem among older adults. Between 30% to 80% of older adults have this sleep problem.
A person with OSA stops breathing – briefly, but repeatedly – while sleeping. This occurs when parts of the back of the throat relax during sleep, then sag and block the airway. Each time this happens, a person with OSA wakes up, briefly, but enough to interfere with sleep and rest.
People with OSA often snore while sleeping and are tired during the day. Studies have found that untreated OSA can boost risks of other health problems such as heart disease.
To find out whether someone with symptoms of OSA actually has the disorder, healthcare providers may have him or her have a polysomnography, or overnight sleep, test. OSA can be treated. In the years before they’re diagnosed, however, adults with untreated OSA tend to have more health problems than those without OSA.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
To find out more about how OSA affects older adults’ health and healthcare needs, and compare this to how OSA affects middle-aged adults’ health and healthcare needs, researchers recently studied about 300 older adults and 2,300 middle-aged people.
Half of the older adults and half of the middle-aged adults in the study had OSA; the other half didn’t. (The researchers used polysomnography to determine who had the disorder.)
The researchers then checked to see what kind of health problems and what healthcare needs those with OSA had during the two years before they were finally diagnosed. They compared this with the healthcare needs of those who didn’t have OSA.
The researchers found that, during the two years before they were diagnosed, older adults who were later diagnosed with OSA had higher healthcare needs and costs – nearly twice the costs - than older adults without OSA.
The researchers also found that, during the two years before they were diagnosed, older adults who were later found to have OSA had higher healthcare needs and costs – 1.9 times the costs - than middle-aged adults with OSA.
The patients with the highest healthcare needs and costs of all were older adults with OSA who also had heart disease, or used antidepressants and other "psychoactive medications."
"Elderly OSA patients have high health care utilization," the researchers report.
What Should I Do?
Snoring can be a symptom of OSA, so tell your partner if he or she snores while sleeping. If your partner tells you this, or if you feel sleepy during the day, even though you get several hours sleep each night, let your healthcare provider know. OSA can be treated.
The summary above is from the full report titled, "The Effect of Obstructive Sleep Apnea on Morbidity and Health Care Utilization by Middle-Aged and Older Adults." It is in the February 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 56, Issue 2). The report is authored by Ariel Tarasiuk PhD, Sari Greenberg-Dotan MA, Tzahit Simon-Tuval MA, Arie Oksenberg PhD, and Haim Reuveni MD.