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posted: December 31, 2008

Timely Tips

Timely Tip: Obstructive Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that’s as common in the United States as diabetes, affecting more than 18 million Americans. And while it is prevalent among people over age 60, sleep apnea is more difficult to diagnose among seniors.

For caregivers and seniors alike, here are the main risk factors to consider in understanding this highly-treatable sleeping disorder:

  • Gender: Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea, but it may be under-diagnosed in women.
  • Age: All ages are affected, but prevalence increases with age, occurring 2-3 times more often in those 65 and older.
  • Ethnicity: African-Americans face a higher risk than other ethnic groups in the US.
  • Geography: Urban dwellers are more likely to report sleep problems, but rural dwellers have a significantly higher risk of apnea.
  • Overweight: Excess stomach weight and fat deposits around the upper airway may obstruct breathing, but not everyone with sleep apnea is overweight.
  • Neck Circumference: A thick neck may narrow the airway and be an indication of excess weight.  Neck circumference larger than 17.5 inches is associated with increased risk.
  • High Blood Pressure: Sleep apnea is not uncommon in those with hypertension.
  • Narrowed Airway: A narrow throat may be inherited, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids can block airway.
  • Family History: If family members have sleep apnea, you may be at increased risk.
  • Alcohol, Sedatives, Tranquilizers: These relax throat muscles, increasing susceptibility.
  • Smoking: Smokers are three times more likely to have sleep apnea than those who have never smoked. 

Learn all about sleep apnea and how it can affect your life or that of a loved one in the feature article Sleep Apnea: Worth a Closer Look as We Age  in the December 2008 edition of Caregiver's Home Companion.

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