People learn new skills most successfully when they have someone instructing them one-on-one and supporting them during times of frustration or uncertainty. This is true of everything from riding a bicycle to learning a new language. And the same principle applies to the use of the medical device employed to treat obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep.
The “apnea” in sleep apnea refers to a breathing pause that lasts at least 10 seconds. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs because during sleep the muscles in the back of the throat lose their tone, a normal occurrence. In people with this condition, however, the throat closes almost completely during sleep, collapsing the airway and making breathing labored if not impossible. Obstructive sleep apnea taxes the cardiovascular system, and has been repeatedly linked in scientific literature to heart attacks and strokes. More than 18 million Americans have been diagnosed with this sleep disorder, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Many people who have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea use a medical device known as a continuous positive airway pressure machine or CPAP. The machine is extremely effective in alleviating the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, but only if it is used regularly and correctly. It works by gently blowing air into the back of the throat and keeping the airway open during sleep.
However, many obstructive sleep apnea sufferers, like Richard Cutrona of Franklin Park, find that their initial experience with CPAP is anything but pleasant.
“There are two critical moments in the successful treatment of a patient with sleep disorders,” says Carol Ash, DO, medical director of Somerset Medical Center’s Sleep for Life program. “The first is nailing the diagnosis, and the second is finding a CPAP mask that is comfortable so that a patient will actually use it. Our program truly supports a patient through the fitting process, so that the mask and CPAP don’t just sit in the patient’s closet. We’re there to intervene when any problem arises.”
Cutrona remembers well his first experience with a mask.
“The first mask I tried on at another sleep center was too tight. It made me feel claustrophobic,” Cutrona says. “At the time I was suffering from acid reflux and high blood pressure, both side effects of obstructive sleep apnea. And during the day I was drowsy. When my first experience with a mask was difficult, I was depressed.”
Cutrona’s wife went online and found Somerset Medical Center’s Sleep for Life program. An initial phone conversation with licensed respiratory therapist Robert McCaffrey lifted Cutrona’s spirits.
Somerset Medical Center’s Sleep for Life program is one of the largest and most advanced programs for the treatment of sleep disorders in the United States. With locations in Hillsborough and Somerville, the program offers overnight sleep studies, at-home sleep disorders testing and equipment maintenance services.
“Robert told me to come in and he would help me — and he has,” Cutrona says. “I can’t say enough about him and the other people at Sleep for Life.”
Cutrona was paired one on-one-with McCaffrey, who listened to his concerns and worked with him on finding the best fit and the appropriate air pressure for the CPAP unit. He also taught Cutrona how to adjust his mask and air pressure.
Cutrona began to quickly feel better when he finally was able to use his CPAP, so he began using it every night.
“For obstructive sleep apnea patients, being compliant with their program is everything,” says Dr. Ash. “The key is education, but educating patients takes time. We are proud of the fact that we do put in the time with patients — and it shows. We have a compliance rate of 90 percent. The national average is 50 to 70 percent.”
“This is a serious condition, and one that’s widespread,” says Cutrona. “Finding the right kind of help for it wasn’t easy, but I found the help I needed at Sleep for Life.”
For more information about Sleep for Life, call 888-SFL-REST. For a free brochure, e-mail your request to [email protected]