Could a wearable device be just as effective as a sleep clinic at diagnosing sleep apnea following traumatic brain injury? This is the question that researchers from the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center aim to answer in an upcoming national study.
If the wristwatch-like devices, which measure sleep and wake cycles through actigraphy, are capable of producing data comparable to that generated from lab-based sleep studies, known as polysomnography, they may provide an easier way to diagnose sleep apnea. Patients may feel more comfortable undergoing sleep testing in their own home, allowing clinicians to more accurately diagnose the sleep disorder and commence treatment.
It’s estimated that sleep apnea affects one in every 15 individuals in the US. The condition, characterized by snoring and interruptions in breathing that make it difficult for people to get sufficient rest, becomes even more problematic in patients with a traumatic brain injury.
“Optimizing sleep is essential for neurorecovery after traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Kathleen Bell, the project’s investigator at the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. If sleep apnea goes undiagnosed in these patients, it could present a major hurdle to complete recovery.
Bell and her team recently published a study on the incidence of sleep apnea among patients who were admitted to brain injury rehabilitation centers multiple times. About half of all patients admitted to brain rehab – 37 percent of which had suffered a traumatic brain injury – had also been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Despite the fact that approximately three million people experience a traumatic brain injury each year, these patients often don’t realize that they are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. If the wrist actigraphs being tested in the current study show promise, they could offer a simple way of monitoring sleep patterns in patients after they have experienced head trauma.
“We know that you can identify disturbances in sleep with wrist actigraphs,” said Bell. “What we don’t know is how effective these screening methods are stacked up against one another.”
The study will be funded through a $2.68 million grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). Bell and her team will commence enrollment for the multi-center study next month using patients from Traumatic Brain Injury Model System Research Centers across the US.