Sleep apnea linked to 50% higher risk of memory problems

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  • 2 months ago

A recent study involving over 4,200 people has found that individuals with sleep apnea may have a 50% increased risk of memory and thinking problems compared to those without the condition. The research will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 76th Annual Meeting in April 2024.

It remains uncertain whether sleep apnea directly causes cognitive deficits or if the issues with attention and memory are linked to comorbidities. Some scientists suspect that the intermittent drops in oxygen, abnormal blood flow, and neuroinflammation observed in people with sleep apnea may impair cognitive function.

Dr. David Merrill, a geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center, notes that disrupted and poor-quality sleep seen in sleep disorders can lead to worsening changes in the brain. The glymphatic system, which cleans waste from the brain, is activated during deep stages of sleep and without high-quality sleep, the brain does not get the opportunity to rest and repair.

Individuals with sleep apnea experience intermittent breathing interruptions during sleep, which can lead to drops in oxygenation of the brain. Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, can cause choking or snorting sounds as the body reacts to the lack of air. These interruptions can occur numerous times an hour, resulting in severe sleep deprivation.

Sleep disturbances have been linked to an increased risk of dementia, and vice versa, dementia can heighten the risk of impaired sleep. Using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines can prevent drops in oxygenation and protect brain function, potentially decreasing cognitive decline. Research has shown that using a CPAP device for at least one year can improve cognition.

In conclusion, early screening and treatment of cognitive impairment in individuals with sleep apnea are crucial, and strategies such as maintaining regular sleep schedules, avoiding stimulants, and utilizing CPAP devices can help alleviate symptoms and potentially delay the onset of dementia.


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