Older adults who have sleep apnea and who are excessively sleepy in the daytime may have more than twice the risk of death as people who do not have both conditions, new research published in the journal Sleep suggests.
In a study of 289 adults over age 65 without depression or dementia, the risk of death was not increased for people with sleep apnea without excessive daytime sleepiness or for those who reported only excessive daytime sleepiness without having sleep apnea, the researchers say.
“Excessive daytime sleepiness, when associated with sleep apnea, can significantly increase the risk of death in older adults,” study researcher Nalaka S. Gooneratne, MD, MSc, of the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, says in a news release. “We did not find that being sleepy in and of itself was a risk. Instead, the risk of increased mortality only seemed to occur when sleep apnea was also present.”
In the study, 74% of participants were female. The mean age of participants at the start of the study was 78. About half of participants had significant levels of excessive daytime sleepiness and reported that they felt sleepy or struggled to stay awake during daylight hours at least three to four times per week.
Sleep apnoea testing was performed at night in a sleep lab. Participants in the study were recruited between 1993 and 1998. Survival status was determined by searching the Social Security death index, ending Sept. 1, 2009. The study says 160 people, or 55% of the participants, died during an average follow-up period of 14 years.
Those participants who had both sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness had a risk of death that was more than two times higher than those who did not have the combination of these conditions. The researchers say it’s unclear just why sleep apnea combined with excessive daytime sleepiness may increase the death risk of older adults. Whether treatment reduces the risk of death for these people remains to be tested.
Another new study published this month has warned that people with serious a cases of sleep apnea have 2.5 times more chance of suffering an ischemic stroke. This was confirmed in a study undertaken among 394 subjects aged 70 or more. “After studying the quality of their sleep, we tracked the volunteers over the course of six years. After which, 20 of the study subjects had suffered a stroke”, Roberto Munoz, a physician of the Neurology Service of the Hospital Complex of Navarra. The research was presented at the School of Medicine and the University of Navarra Hospital.