Closeup of older woman sleeping in bed

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the gold standard treatment for moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea. But it may not be effective in adults aged 80 years and older, a new study finds.

Investigators followed health outcomes in 369 sleep apnea patients over the age of 70 for three months. Approximately half were assigned to CPAP therapy. The researchers measured sleepiness levels, sleep-related quality of life, anxiety and depression and blood pressure levels. Results were then compared between participants older and younger than age 80.

In the 80-years-and-older group, those that used CPAP experienced no improvements in sleep apnea-related symptoms, quality-of-life metrics, mood-related symptoms or blood pressure when compared to the group that did not receive the treatment.

Patients aged 80 and older may have more sedentary lifestyles and are more likely to have developed comorbidities that outweigh the effects of the CPAP, suggested David Gozal, M.D., of the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

This age group may also be less likely to continue CPAP therapy long-term, he and his colleagues added.

The findings raise a host of questions when considering the growing number of elderly being referred by their physicians for sleep consultations, the authors said.

Future research should consider what type of elderly patient with obstructive sleep apnea will benefit from CPAP, whether CPAP is a cost-effective treatment for patients in this age group and how long the treatment should last once initiated, they said.

Full findings were published in the journal Sleep Medicine.