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Recently, I was home visiting my parents and I noticed my mother had dark circles under her eyes and she was nodding off during my nephew's football game. When I asked her if she was getting enough sleep, she looked at me a bit perplexed. She said the following: 

"I just don't get it. You know what a loud snoorer your father is. I sleep most nights in the quiet and comfortable guest bedroom and yet, I am not getting any sleep there either!"

When I suggested she might be suffering from sleep apnea, she shugged it off and said, 

"I'm not a man. That's a man's disorder!" 

When I explained to her that sleep apnea did not just affect men and given her age (73 years old) and weight, this is exactly what could be going on. I am happy to report that my mother is now sleeping soundly. The doctors confirmed she had sleep apnea and she is now sleeping with an oral appliance. No more baggy eyes or drifting off! She is a different woman and I am so glad her energy has rebounded! 

Even with my own mother's experience behind me,  the medical community still thinks of sleep apnea as a "man's disorder". However, 3 recent studies confirm that women, especially older women, are very susceptible to this sleep interuption problem. And if left untreated, it can get worse over time.  

In a recent Swedish study, 400 women between the ages of 20 to 70 were asked to sleep overnight at home with sensors attached to their body to detect any change in their breathing patterns during the night. What they found was both interesting and a bit alarming. It turns out that women as young as 20 years old can suffer from sleep apnea and as women age their chance of having sleep apnea increased 3 fold. Here is how the study broke down by age category:  

  • Of  women 20-44 years old, 1 in 4 suffered from some level of sleep apnea
  • 2 out of 4 women between 45-54 had it
  • 3 out of 4 of women between 55-70 were troubled by sleep apnea 

But what are the risks of sleep apnea if left untreated? 

In a Spain study of 939 women who were 65 years or older with untreated severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), they had an increased risk of a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure, as compared to women who did not have OSA. 

There is another risk factor if left untreated: memory problems. 

In the study from the University of California, San Fransico, 298 women with an average age of 82 years and without dementia, were given sleep apnea tests. They found that 1 in 3 of the women had untreated sleep apnea. 

They let 5 years pass and they brought the same women back for a sleep test and this is what they found: 

  • Of the ones who had sleep apnea 5 years before, 45% had developed thinking and memory problems. 
  • Of the ones who did not have this problem, only 31% developed thinking and memory problems. 

"It makes sense that good sleep is going to be protective to the brain," said Dr. Robert Thomas, who studies sleep patterns at Harvard Medical School. 

"We see that it (sleep apnea) doesn't go away and it gets worse," said Terry Young, Professor for the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin. Studies have confirmed that sleep apnea is tied to a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, and early death.

In summary, sleep apnea affects both men and women. As women age, they have a greater propensity to it. It is up to us, to watch both the sleep and awake patterns of our parents and encourage them to get a sleep test if there is any question they might have sleep apnea. 

Parmar Family & Cosmetic Dentistry is located in Clarksville, Maryland. They have a variety of oral appliances available for their patients that suffer from sleep apnea. Dr. Parmar's mission is to provide each and every patient optimum CARE, with COMPASSION and COMPETENCY in a COMFORTABLE, trusting environment. Give them a call today to schedule your sleep apnea evaluation appointment! 

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