Sleep Apnea Linked to Epilepsy in Older Adults

We’ve noted in this space that sleep apnea has been linked to a wide range of disorders, particularly in older adults. Now another condition can be added to the list.

Researchers at the National Institutes of health found that low oxygen levels while sleeping, and sleep apnea in general, are associated with late-onset epilepsy (i.e. cases of epilepsy that manifest after 60 years of age). A growing body of evidence indicates that late-onset epilepsy may be driven by some sort of underlying vascular or neurodegenerative disease. While sleep apnea is common in epileptics, specifics around the nature of the association haven’t been clearly understood.

Researchers analyzed sleep data from more than 1,300 participants, who were identified via Medicare claims related to late-onset epilepsy, and found that people suffering from nocturnal hypoxia (i.e. oxygen saturation levels below 80% during sleep) were three times more likely to develop late-onset epilepsy than individuals whose sleeptime oxygen levels didn’t fall below the 80% threshold. The study also found that participants with self-reported obstructive sleep apnea were twice as likely than individuals without OSA to develop late-onset epilepsy.

Researchers detected the link controlling for other medical issues and demographic factors. Interestingly, researchers did not detect an association with the AHI, which is traditionally used to measure the severity of sleep apnea.

Given what is known about the impact of sleep apnea on the brain – it’s associated with the loss of white matter in the elderly, and can cause cognitive decline even if you’re otherwise healthy – it’s not terribly surprising that it’s also connected to epilepsy. If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea, contact us today for an at-home sleep study.

Source: Low oxygen during sleep and sleep apnea linked to epilepsy in older adults (NIH press release)