Untreated sleep apnea in older adults is an expensive problem, according to a recent claims analysis. Routine screening could help minimize the toll, the researchers say.

Medicare beneficiaries over age 65 who went for a year without a sleep apnea diagnosis used substantially more healthcare services than their diagnosed and treated peers, reported Emerson Wickwire, Ph.D., from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The resulting burden in care appointments, prescriptions, emergency room visits and hospital stays added $20,000 to yearly medical costs, he and his colleagues found.

Undiagnosed adults were also more likely to have additional ailments, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and depression. 

It’s important to recognize that costs associated with undiagnosed sleep apnea will continue to accrue as the condition takes its toll, Wickwire said. One solution is early screening and treatment for older adults, particularly those who have medical and psychiatric comorbidities, he added.

“The good news is that highly effective diagnostic and treatment strategies are available,” he concluded. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is pervasive in eldercare facilities, where up to 70% of residents suffer its effects.

The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.