Older adults are more likely to have sleep apnea and low oxygen during sleep

Medical Xpress

Sleep apnea and low oxygen levels while sleeping are associated with epilepsy that first occurs after 60 years of age, known as late-onset epilepsy, according to a new study published in Sleep.
The link was independent of other known risk factors for late-onset epilepsy and sleep apnea including hypertension and stroke.
The findings may help to better understand the relationship between sleep disorders and late-onset epilepsy, as well as identify potential targets for treatment.
Sleep apnea is common among people with epilepsy, but the association is not well understood.”
In addition, participants with self-reported sleep apnea in later life were twice as likely to develop late-onset epilepsy as those without the sleep disorder.
The degree of hypoxia during sleep was associated with late-onset epilepsy, independent of other co-occurring medical issues and demographic factors.
The authors note that the study did not detect an association between the apnea-hypopnea index, a traditional measure of sleep apnea severity.
Future studies are needed to assess whether treating sleep apnea in patients at risk for late-onset epilepsy may help prevent the onset of the disease.


A recent study published in Sleep found a link between late-onset epilepsy, or epilepsy that develops after age 60, and sleep apnea and low oxygen levels during sleep.

The association existed without reference to other established risk factors for stroke and hypertension, as well as late-onset epilepsy and sleep apnea. The results could lead to a better understanding of the connection between sleep disorders and late-onset epilepsy, as well as suggest possible therapeutic targets.

Late-onset epilepsy may be a preclinical marker of neurodegenerative disease or a sign of underlying vascular or neurological disease, according to Rebecca Gottesman, M.D. “There is increasing evidence that supports this theory.”. as Ph. D. author of the study and head of the Stroke Branch at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The highest rate of new epilepsy cases—up to half with no known cause—occurs in older adults when compared to other age groups. Although there is a known correlation, sleep apnea is common in epileptics. ****.

Under the direction of M.D Christopher Carosella, researchers. is an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He used Medicare claims to find cases of late-onset epilepsy and examined sleep data from over 1,300 participants in a study on the relationship between cardiovascular disease and sleep disorders.

They discovered that the risk of developing late-onset epilepsy was three times higher in individuals with nocturnal hypoxia, a condition in which oxygen saturation drops below 80% while you sleep. Furthermore, participants who self-reported having sleep apnea in later life had twice the risk of developing late-onset epilepsy compared to those who did not have the sleep disorder.

The level of hypoxia experienced while sleeping was linked to late-onset epilepsy, regardless of the presence of other comorbid conditions or demographic variables. The study’s findings, according to the authors, did not find a correlation between the severity of sleep apnea and the apnea-hypopnea index.

Although sleep apnea has been linked to poor brain health in other contexts, such as the risk of stroke and dementia, an association with epilepsy had not been previously reported. Hypoxia is linked to brain alterations that may eventually increase the risk of epilepsy. These alterations may result from frequent, prolonged exposure to low oxygen levels over night.

The study indicates that treating or preventing sleep apnea may be a significant potential target for lowering risk of late-onset epilepsy, but it is unable to conclude whether doing so would lower the risk of epilepsy.

“One aspirational goal for epilepsy researchers or clinicians is to discover a reversible cause for the development of any type of idiopathic epilepsy,” stated Dr. Carosella. In addition to encouraging the evaluation and treatment of sleep disorders in epilepsy patients, we hope that this study may be a modest first step in that direction. “.

The results may ultimately aid in identifying people who are at risk for some of these other conditions, offering a potential avenue for treatment and prevention, as sleep apnea can have effects related to brain and cardiovascular health.

Subsequent research is required to evaluate whether treating sleep apnea could help delay the onset of late-onset epilepsy in individuals who are at risk.

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