Sleep apnea in the elderly: a specific entity?

Sleep Med Rev. 2007 Apr;11(2):87-97. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2006.08.005. Epub 2007 Feb 2.


Sleep apnea is highly prevalent in subjects after age 60, and affects older men and women similarly. Central apneas are often observed in addition to obstructive and mixed events. Pathogenesis of obstructive and central events during sleep in the elderly can be attributed to an amplification of well-established causes of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) in younger adults. As in middle-aged adults, sleep-related complaints, cardiovascular diseases, depression and traffic accidents should prompt an evaluation by a sleep specialist. However, secondary enuresis and nocturia, cognitive impairment, ophthalmic conditions and repeated falls may be the main complaint in elderly subjects. Sleep studies in the elderly should systematically include reliable means to detect central apneas and periodic leg movements. Untreated SDB in the elderly appears to have a lesser impact on mortality than in middle-aged adults. However, the typical morbidity associated with the disorder in younger adults is observed in the elderly. Elderly symptomatic SDB patients tolerate CPAP no differently than younger patients and should be effectively treated. In conclusion, whether sleep apnea in the elderly represents a specific entity or the same disease as in younger subjects, with some distinctive features, is still unclear. Further research, in particular focusing on the impact of age on SDB outcomes, is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Comorbidity
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome / therapy
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Apnea, Central / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Apnea, Central / epidemiology
  • Sleep Apnea, Central / therapy
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / therapy