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Caring For A Stroke Survivor
With Sleep Apnea

By Deirdre Stewart, RN, PhD

(Page (2 of 2)

For the stroke survivor who is new to positive airway pressure, adjusting to sleeping with a nasal mask and feeling the sensation of positive airway pressure will require a period of adjustment. It is crucial that an experienced sleep technician or nurse is present to help the patient in the initial stages of sleep apnea treatment. Even though PAP is a very simple type of therapy, practical problems may arise. Because stroke will often leave the survivor with physical and/or mental deficits, patients being treated for sleep apnea may need assistance putting on their nasal mask or reapplying it during the night. Also, if the stroke survivor experienced damage to areas of the brain that affect memory, they may need continual reminders of the importance of using the PAP device. The success of long-term, effective treatment will depend on how well these problems are managed in the first few weeks of treatment. Medical support, in addition to encouragement and reinforcement from stroke caregivers, will improve the patient’s acceptance of PAP.

Whether sleep apnea was diagnosed before the stroke, during stroke rehabilitation, or after discharge, caring for a stroke survivor with sleep apnea requires support from everyone involved in the care process. In some cases, stroke survivors may not feel any physical or emotional benefits from treatment, despite objective evidence of improvement. It is not uncommon for the consequences of a stroke to overshadow the relief of sleep apnea symptoms. Educating the patient and family about the nature and consequences of sleep apnea during the first few weeks of treatment after a stroke is vital. The caregivers and family members of the stroke survivor should all be informed that the benefits of sleep apnea treatment, including reduced risk of a second stroke, are worth the adjustment time. Clearly outlining treatment goals will help keep the entire care team focused on stroke recovery.

Although treating sleep apnea in stroke patients may require additional effort for caregivers, experts such as Professor of Neurology, Antonio Culebras, MD, Syracuse University agree that “application of positive pressure breathing treatment may improve the rehabilitation potential of patients post-stroke.”


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