I have many older patients in my practice at this time. Heck, I am an older patient. One big concern I have and so do many of my patients is the loss of our mental faculties, medically known a cognitive dysfunction. Now some short-term memory loss is common as we age but when patients are worked up by their physician for significant or early cognitive dysfunction, I wonder if obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is part of any consideration.

I have spoken many times about certain aspects associated with OSA, but it appears that a significant portion of OSA patients are found to have cognitive dysfunction which means there is a potential benefit to considering sleep apnea as a possible contributing factor in patients experiencing cognitive problems. This would mean that an evaluation for sleep apnea should be considered in at-risk patients.

Keep in mind that the stroke risk is also increased in patients with sleep apnea. Not all strokes are large, and some often go unrecognized. Multiple small strokes taken together could result in cognitive dysfunction.

The more I understand about sleep apnea the more I am concerned that it may be a contributing cause for many of the common conditions we as physicians see every day. Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, gasping and paused breathing during sleep. Most of these are witnessed by the patient’s bed partner. Attention to these symptoms may mean a safer and better life. Don’t ignore your symptoms.