Treatment for sleep apnea

August 9, 2011 2:33:23 PM PDT
If we don't get enough sleep at night, many try catching up during the day. As we age, those sleeping problems can become worse.

"I'm just going to put some electrodes to your scalp and to your face to determine your sleep stages to see if you're getting a good night's sleep or not," the doctor said.

Ruth Lym was diagnosed with sleep apnea at the University of California, San Francisco Sleep Disorders Center.

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder where the throat collapses or constricts during sleep. Breathing can stop for a period of 10 to 30 seconds or more.

"It very much disturbs the sleep as well as exposes the individual to low oxygen levels on a frequent basis and it happens many, many times throughout the night," said Dr. Katie Stone, of the California Pacific Medical Center.

"I was shocked to find out that when I was asleep my oxygen saturation was down to 68%," Lym said.

Normal is much higher in the 90% range or above.

"We were interested in finding out whether older women with sleep apnea have a higher risk of developing cognitive problems over time," Dr. Stone said.

Dr. Katie Stone from California Pacific Medical Center and co-authors studied almost 300 women whose average age was 82. Free of any cognitive problems, the women underwent a single sleep study where researchers measured oxygen levels and sleep quality. They were then re-tested five years later.

"Over a third or 35% of the older women in our study had evidence of moderate to severe sleep apnea," Dr. Stone said.

The study appears in this week's JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Among those with sleep apnea there was about an 85% or nearly the doubling of risk of onset of cognitive problems compared to those who had more normal breathing during sleep," Dr. Stone said.

Ruth says her C-PAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine has brought good healthy sleep back into her life. And although the machine may look daunting to some, Ruth says it's really not.

"Whatever it takes to deal with using a C-PAP is absolutely worth it to your life and the lives of people who love you," Lym said.