Inspire: New Hope Beyond the CPAP

I have been a CPAP user for 12 years and, for the most part, my life is vastly improved now that my sleep apnea is being treated. I am lucky that CPAP therapy has improved my quality of life, for others it is not so successful.

My friend, Karen Wolk, was suffering from a mild cognitive impairment and debilitating depression when she found the Inspire implant for sleep apnea. The implant has changed her life.

Signs that something was wrong

Karen knew something was really wrong at a work presentation when she forgot names to equipment she had demonstrated many times before. Talking about a camera, in front of a group, she found herself searching in vain for the word “lens cap.”

As the condition worsened, Karen would sometimes not recognize loved ones which was distressing and depressing.

Anxiety, depression, and memory issues

Despite having sleepiness and the obvious symptoms of sleep apnea, Karen’s most bothersome symptoms were anxiety, depression, and memory. She didn’t seek out a sleep specialist because, like so many women, she had no idea her problems were coming from undiagnosed sleep apnea.

Talking to a psychiatrist

Instead, Karen started with her psychiatrist. Karen says, “The psychiatrist sent me to the neurologist who ran a series of tests because I was having so many symptoms and they didn’t look like they related to something unless you finally found out about the sleep disorder.”

Karen’s psychiatrist began asking questions about sleep and sent her for a sleep study. That was how the sleep apnea was diagnosed in 2016 and Karen started CPAP therapy.

Struggling on CPAP therapy

Like so many people, Karen had a really tough time using her CPAP from the outset. Not only did her mask give her feelings of claustrophobia but she also found she swallowed air all night leading to a lot of discomforts. Switching from CPAP over to BiPAP therapy made only a marginal difference. Karen says,

I started with a CPAP and did that therapy for about a year. Then I was switched over to BiPAP for another year. I had claustrophobia from wearing the masks and I would wake up and take the mask off at night. I’d have nightmares about putting the mask on and then would feel like I was suffocating.

Inspire implant for sleep apnea

As luck would have it, Karen came across a leaflet about the Inspire implant at one of her doctor visits. The Inspire implant is about the size of a pacemaker and sends electrical pulses to move a patient’s tongue clear of their airway every time they breathe in or “inspire.”

This device is not for every person with sleep apnea but for those who cannot tolerate the CPAP and meet certain health criteria, it can be a lifesaver. Karen turned out to be an ideal candidate for the device and she decided to proceed with the implant surgery.

Talking about her decision to have the Inspire surgery, Karen said, “The reason I decided to move forward with Inspire was that it was something to hope for. By the time I found Inspire I had pretty much given up hope and was severely depressed.“

Improved quality of sleep

Karen quickly recovered from the implant surgery and she returned to the doctor’s office to have the device turned on. Each patient has their own unique setting for Inspire so there were a number of office visits until the optimal levels of the device were reached. A small remote control is used to switch the implant on at night and off in the morning.

Karen feels like she got her life back, “Since getting the Inspire implant, my life has changed in many ways. I work full time and when I sleep, I sleep for at least 8 hours. I don’t gasp for air anymore or snort really loud and wake myself up. I’m able to hold conversations and have meaningful relationships that wouldn’t have been possible before.”

For Karen, the biggest benefit is that she gets a full restful night’s sleep every night. This seems miraculous to her after the struggles she endured with sleep apnea diagnosis and CPAP treatment.

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