Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is common in people with intellectual disabilities (ID), but in practice continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is often deemed unfeasible. We investigated adherence to and effect of CPAP in patients with ID and OSA.
Patients with ID were started on CPAP using an intensive training program. Acceptable adherence was defined as use of ≥ 4 h/night during ≥ 70% of the nights. Treatment effect was measured with a patient global impression scale and customized questionnaires. Reasons for not starting CPAP, factors influencing treatment, and reasons for terminating CPAP were explored.
Of 39 patients with ID, 87% after 8-10 weeks and 70% at 8 months still used CPAP, of whom 74% and 77% showed acceptable adherence. Baseline apnea-hypopnea (AHI) index decreased from 41.2/h to 5.3/h after 8-10 weeks (p < 0.001), and 4.3/h after 8 months (p < 0.001). At 8-10 weeks and after 8 months, there was an improvement in the most restrictive reported complaint (both p < 0.0005), difficulty waking up (p < 0.01; p < 0.0005), handling behavior (p < 0.03; p < 0.02), presence of irritability (p < 0.01), and sleepiness (p < 0.05). The expectation that CPAP would not be tolerated was the main reason for not starting. CPAP use in the first 2 weeks predicted adherence at 8-10 weeks and 8 months (r = 0.51, p < 0.01; r = 0.69, p < 0.01). Of 13 patients who terminated CPAP, the reasons for termination included behavioral problems, comorbid insomnia, anxiety, discomfort, or other side effects.
With adequate guidance, CPAP is both feasible and effective in people with ID and OSA.