CPAP is effective at treating sleep apnea in older people, a new study has found.
Previous studies have established the benefits of CPAP in middle-aged people with OSA, but until now there has been no research on whether the treatment is useful and cost-effective for older patients, the study authors say.
The new research found that CPAP reduces how sleepy patients feel in the daytime and reduces healthcare costs. The researchers say CPAP should be offered routinely to older patients with OSA, and more should be done to raise awareness of the condition.
The study, published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine, involved 278 patients aged 65 or over at 14 NHS centers in the UK. It was led by researchers at Imperial College London and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in collaboration with the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit at UCL, and the Universities of Oxford and York. It was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA) Programme.
Professor Mary Morrell, co-principal investigator of the study from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, says in a release: “Sleep apnea can be hugely damaging to patients’ quality of life and increase their risk of road accidents, heart disease, and other conditions. Lots of older people might benefit from this treatment. Many patients feel rejuvenated after using CPAP because they’re able to sleep much better and it may even improve their brain function.”
Patients with sleep apnea sometimes stop breathing for 30 seconds or longer at night before they wake up and start breathing again. In these pauses, their blood oxygen levels fall.
“We think low oxygen levels at night might accelerate cognitive decline in old people, and studies have found that sleep apnea causes changes in the grey matter in the brain. We’re currently researching whether treatment can prevent or reverse those changes,” says Morrell.
Co-principal investigator Dr Renata Riha, consultant and honorary reader at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, adds that sleep medicine spans many disciplines and comprises an important area of research that deserves support and greater recognition by funding bodies, universities, and public policy makers. “Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea, impact on a wide variety of chronic conditions, potentially leading to their development or worsening them, including diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and possibly even cancer. Successful treatment diminishes this risk but we still have a great deal of work to do in the area,” she says.