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Snoring in the Elderly

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Snoring in the ElderlyMild snoring in most cases is a disturbance to partners and family members of a person but if severe, it can be a serious condition that extends beyond just an irritation to others. Snoring becomes more common as a person gets older and the snoring senior is somewhat considered to be the norm. However, snoring in the elderly is associated with more serious complications ranging from depression, personality changes due to lack of sleep and it even increases the risk of certain conditions like a stroke.

Causes of Snoring

Snoring is a noise that is produced when the tissue of the respiratory passages vibrates. It is more likely to occur when the air passages become narrowed. Normally this tissue is firm but with age and other factors, this firmness is gradually lost. The movement of air, particularly if it is turbulent or under higher than normal air pressure like in the narrowed airways, will cause this lax tissue to vibrate. It is mainly the uvula and soft palate that vibrates the most. People who breathe through their mouth are more likely to snore than nose breathers.

Most people snore at some point in their lives. It may follow a heavy bout of drinking or last over a few days due to a cold or the flu. However, it is chronic snoring that needs to be investigated further. These instances are more likely due to one of the following :

  • Mouth breathing due to nasal congestion or partial obstruction with a deviated septum.
  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
  • Alcohol consumption.
  • Certain prescription drugs.
  • Illicit narcotic substances.
  • Overweight or obesity.

Snoring is also a feature of a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea. Here the airway narrows significantly and is at times completely obstructed. A person may then stop breathing and subsequently awakens for a short period to restore normal breathing. This condition can be dangerous, especially in the elderly, who suffer with underlying disorders such as coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure. The lack of air with sleep apnea coupled with the low oxygen state that already exists with the pre-existing conditions can have serious and potentially fatal consequences in the elderly who may not awaken in time to restore breathing.

Treatment of Snoring

There is no definitive treatment for snoring. In fact a person may not even know that they snore if it was not for the feedback of a partner. Some conservative measures that may help ease snoring includes :

  • Sleeping on ergonomically designed pillows for appropriate head and neck support.
  • Losing weight especially if you are overweight or obese.
  • Treating any underlying nasal congestion or mouth breathing which could be a symptom of some underlying problem.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption particularly the evening drinks and night caps.
  • Limit the use of sleeping tablets and certain strong painkillers, particularly before bedtime.

There are several surgical procedures that may be useful in treating snoring but this should first be discussed with your doctor. A person with obstructive sleep apnea may need to use a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure) to ensure that breathing does not cease at night.


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