Dementia Risk Increases as Sleep Apnea Worsens

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New research has found additional evidence of a connection between obstructive sleep apnea (characterized by excessive snoring and repeated starts and stops in breathing) and cognitive impairment. The study, which was published in 2018 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, showed that as the severity of the condition increases, so do levels of beta-amyloid plaque, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. This suggests that treatment of the sleep condition may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The 208 study participants, from 55 to 90 years of age, were healthy and cognitively normal. Slightly more than half had obstructive sleep apnea, which was generally mild, and not being treated. Investigators followed participants for two years, measuring concentrations of amyloid in the spinal fluid, and repeating the test at the end of the study. They also viewed amyloid deposits in participants’ brains using positron-emission tomography (PET) scans and monitored their sleep with a home sleep recording device.

At the study’s end, measurable signs (biomarkers) for amyloid plaque in the spinal fluid of people with obstructive sleep apnea had increased over time in proportion to the severity of their condition, as had amyloid deposits in their brains.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea, or suspect that you might, get evaluated and ask your doctor about treatment options. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) unit can help to keep your airways open during sleep by streaming air up the nose through hoses and a mask.