Does Sleep Apnea Hasten Alzheimer’s Progression?

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An excessive buildup of amyloid deposits in the brain is a key marker of Alzheimer’s disease. A small 2017 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease finds that amyloid deposits accumulate faster in people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This finding suggests that having OSA-a condition characterized by repeated brief episodes of breathing cessation during sleep-may contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s.

The 38 men and women in the study ranged in age from 50 to 65 years, and all had normal cognitive function. Almost half of the participants had moderate to severe OSA. Brain imaging showed that people with OSA had significantly more amyloid in areas of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s than participants without the breathing disorder. This association remained even after investigators accounted for other Alzheimer’s risk factors, such as being older or having the APOE4 gene.

These results need to be corroborated in larger studies, and it’s not known whether treating OSA would slow the rate of amyloid deposits. Nevertheless, if you think you may have OSA, there are plenty of other reasons to seek medical help. The condition is also associated with excessive daytime sleepiness and hypertension. Treating OSA has been shown to help both.