It’s a dangerous secondary consequence of traumatic brain injury (TBI): victims often end up with sleep apnea. And, as with most people who have sleep apnea, they don’t realize it. Part of the problem is their doctors, who may not communicate the risk and may not do enough to diagnose the condition among their patients.
To try and facilitate diagnosis of sleep apnea among TBI victims, researchers are trying to see if wearable tech–actigraphs like FitBit or Jawbone–can accurately diagnose sleep apnea. This would make diagnosis easier, but we’d still have to resolve the question of how best to treat sleep apnea.
Sleep Helps the Brain Recover
Sleep apnea is very common among people after TBI. Perhaps as much as 50% of TBI victims develop the condition, according to research recently published by Dr. Kathleen Bell and her team at the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Center. With about 3 million TBI each year in the US, this represents a huge group at risk for sleep apnea.
Dr. Bell explained why the current study is so important: “Optimizing sleep is essential for neurorecovery after TBI.” It’s something that’s been well-explored for stroke victims. A favorable outcome following a stroke is less likely if the victim has sleep apnea. It’s believed that the effects on TBI victims is similar.
Modifying Wearable Tech
There would be many benefits if we could get wearable tech to diagnose TMJ. Because they’d be worn all day, they could give a more comprehensive picture of a person’s activity level after their injury, which can also be a factor in recovery. And the incidental data could help paint a more comprehensive picture of some factors that can contribute to positive or negative outcomes after injury.
Unfortunately, as they are currently, actigraphs can’t accurately diagnose sleep apnea. They can detect movement and therefore some sleep disturbances, but they can’t detect breathing information, snoring, or oxygen saturation.
However, researchers are modifying the devices to make them more accurate and are also comparing the results with an in-lab sleep test to find out if the modifications make them accurate enough to be trusted with diagnosing sleep apnea in TBI victims.
The Next Challenge Is Treatment
But diagnosing sleep apnea is only part of the challenge. The next major challenge is finding a sleep apnea treatment that can help TBI victims get good results.
This can be very hard, because TBI can result in other sleep disorders. It may even result in central sleep apnea, which can be difficult to treat. People with TBI may also be suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which can reduce compliance with CPAP.
To get the best results for the largest number of patients, we need a wide range of sleep apnea treatments for TBI victims.