Sleep apnea is one of the most under diagnosed conditions in elderly people, and you can only imagine how many misdiagnoses involve sleep apnea – the elderly patient is told he or she has an ailment such as “old age related daytime fatigue” when in fact, the undue fatigue is being caused by untreated sleep apnea.
Major Underdiagnosis in
the Elderly of Sleep Apnea
This is what University of Michigan researchers have found. Fifty-six percent of people over 65 have a high risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
And NO, obesity is NOT required for obstructive sleep apnea, in which the airway becomes partially or completely shut off due to some structural defect in the throat.
The study stays that eight percent of senior age people have been tested for obstructive sleep apnea.
Only an overnight sleep study can diagnose OSA. There’s no such thing as a doctor being able to detect the presence or absence of OSA simply by examining the patient in the office.
How was the study done? misdiagnosed
1,052 Medicare recipients completed a sleep questionnaire plus other surveys as part of the National Health and Aging Trends Study.
“We see that OSA was rarely evaluated, but when it was, it was almost always confirmed, as nearly all — 94 percent — of those at risk and tested for OSA were diagnosed,” explains co-first author Galit Levi Dunietz, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow in sleep epidemiology at Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Center.
“We know that OSA is quite common, yet often underdiagnosed in adults in the U.S.,” says co-first author Tiffany Braley, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Michigan Medicine.
“But most of the data available are from younger or middle-aged patients.”
Perhaps this is because excessive daytime drowsiness and fatigue are less alarming in an elderly person than in a 45-year-old, and hence, are less likely to lead to a diagnostic workup.
“The results of this study are impressive,” notes co-author Ronald Chervin, MD, professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Centers at Michigan Medicine.
The results amount to estimates, says Dr. Chervin in the report, which appears in the April 2018 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Nevertheless, these estimates help quantify the scope of the challenge.
“We already know that untreated sleep apnea costs billions each year,” adds Dr. Chervin, “with decreased work productivity, impaired quality of life and increased medical costs.”