DescriptionSleep apnea is a disorder that occurs when breathing is interrupted repeatedly during sleep. The disorder is common in the older population with a prevalence ranging from 30% to 80%. It has gained attention in clinical research, not only because of its association with an increased risk of dementia, but also because it challenges the recruitment of ‘healthy seniors’ for studies on ‘healthy ageing’.
Who to include in such studies and how to deal with sleep apnea detection during a trial has troubled clinical researchers. Their troubles result from ambiguity on what counts as sleep apnea. This distinction is unsettled by divergences in local practices of sleep apnea scoring, national and international criteria, and in research and clinical standards. In light of unsettled categories of ‘health’ and ‘illness’, researchers pursue ethical quests to decide which ‘healthy seniors’ should be informed about which level of sleep apnea severity in the presence or absence of symptoms.
Drawing on integrative ethnography in a clinical trial on healthy ageing, I show how sleep apnea became multiple in different research practices: interpreting curves of sleep recordings, categorising sleep apnea, and doing research ethics. Moments of friction between different ways of relating to sleep apnea opened possibilities for generative critique. Generative critique destabilised taken-for-granted distinctions between ‘health’ and ‘illness’, which enabled other ways of approaching problems. By analysing generative critique in local productions of sleep apnea, I open a discussion on what integrative ethnographers can add to field sites where actors reflexively unsettle hegemonic categories, objects, and practices.
|4 Mar 2021
|Chronic Living Conference: quality, vitality and health in the 21st century – an international conference