CPAP: Seniors With Sleep Apnea

There are thousands of seniors suffering from sleep apnea. Those diagnosed with sleep apnea, repeatedly stop breathing for short periods during the night. Sleep impairment is serious, regardless of age. However, seniors are more likely to have other health concerns that, when combined with sleep apnea, can make the original diagnosis worse or even lethal.

A CPAP Device Can be a Life Saver – Literally

Those with sleep apnea stop breathing for as much as a half-minute at a time. These breathing gaps can happen up to 400 times each night. Patients with sleep apnea cannot bring enough air into their system voluntarily during these laps in breathing. Throughout the night, sleep is continually disturbed. Sudden gasps for breath and snoring, remind the body to take breaths and resume the normal timing of natural breathing.

The advent of the Continuous positive airway pressure machines or CPAPs has proved to be a literal lifesaver. During periods of obstructive sleep apnea, the windpipe is blocked in some way. It could be the patients’ tonsils, uvula or tongue. Seniors with excess weight in the neck area might have fatty tissue blocking the airway.

A CPAP device allows forced air to push the blockage, whatever it is, out of the way during sleep. Air pressure from this machine, actually pushes the tongue forward so it does not fall back into the throat and block the airway.

Patients on Medicaid or Medicare May Receive Financial Assistance

A prescription with the diagnosis of sleep apnea will allow those on Medicaid, Medicare or other insurance to receive financial help in renting or purchasing a CPAP device. Machines can be bought from as low as under $400 to as high as $1200. Different styles of machines can help seniors receive the type and style most beneficial for their situation.

Prices vary depending on how many “bells and whistles” the patient wants, or can afford. Although, a machine purchased by Medicaid or Medicare will have only the basics, a medical provider, specializing in patient equipment, will be able to advise the patient in the proper machine for comfort and quality. Regardless of the style, it will always have the necessary equipment needed to fulfill the requirements of the doctors prescription.

Many Types of CPAP Devices are Available.

In order to diagnose sleep apnea, a sleep study is ordered by the patient’s doctor. This overnight study will measure such things as blood pressure, oxygen level, and brain wave action, during sleep. Results from this study will indicate if CPAP will help the patients’ symptoms.

There are many types of CPAP devices. Some CPAP devices supply forced air only. Others will treat the problem with a combination of air and oxygen. Still, others will supply forced air, plus oxygen, plus moisture. Depending on the results of the sleep study, a health care equipment provider will help seniors chose the appropriate device. A written prescription from the doctor will indicate the exact levels of oxygen, air pressure and other patient requirements needed to treat each patient individually.

Latest Technology Targets Patient Comfort

The latest technology has produced machines that are targeted for patient comfort. Such things as patient controlled heat and moisture dials, as well as built-in humidifiers, have produced more patient-friendly devices. Scan cards that keep patient information available for weeks at a time, prevent mistakes in hand-recording important information.

Getting Started Using CPAP

Many seniors resist the paraphernalia required for proper treatment. The face mask, nasal pillows, chin straps, and hoses, plus the sound of the machine itself, may be intimidating. “Fighting” all night with the straps and hoses is a lot to deal with at first. It would be ideal if the first week of use could include calm evenings, leaving time to start to bed a few minutes early. This allows time to get it all put together before too much tiredness sets in. The caregiver may need to put the mask on for the first few times, or even the first few weeks. Be sure to verbalize about what is being done with the mask so the patient will find it less daunting when it is his or her turn to start putting it on. Investing time in getting started in CPAP use is very important.

Be Supportive in Managing Claustrophobia

A caregiver needs to talk it through with the patient, listening without judgment to the feelings and concerns. It is helpful to make positive comments about the benefits of this therapy for the patient’s health problems, expressing confidence that the patient will find a way to deal with it. Avoid pressuring the patient in any way. Encourage the patient to visualize using the machine and feeling better in the morning. Relaxation exercises at bedtime can also be useful. If all else fails, discuss possible anxiety-reducing medication with the doctor.

Benefits for Spouse or Caregiver from CPAP

Upon hearing the doctor mention the need for CPAP therapy, caregivers may dread yet another task. Yet after introducing the machine into the routine, caregivers find it saves them time and energy and reduces caregiver stress.

At first, the caregiver may lose sleep during the first few minutes of the night due to time spent making needed adjustments and providing calm encouragement. However, that investment will pay off handsomely after habits are established and the partner will be able to get much more uninterrupted sleep.

CPAP use can give relief to both the patient and the caregiver. It is worth the extra effort at first to make it work. The caregiver will be glad to see the patient’s improvement. The real potential of CPAP, when prescribed and directed by a doctor, is that not only will the patient see overall health gains, but so can the caregiver!