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Sleep Apnea Increases Dementia Risk

By jeremyc | July 4, 2018

Sleep apnea causes repeated interruptions in breathing in sleep and is linked to changes in the brain which are also visible in the initial stages of dementia, according to a new study.

In obstructive sleep apnea (or OSA for short), soft tissue present on the walls of our throat relax and this in turn impedes airflow. As a result of this the blood has less oxygen than usual.

Because of this finding, the researchers suggest it is time we start screening older people for OSA.

In dementia, a person experiences progressive cognitive decline and finds it difficult to do common everyday things. At present, nearly 50 million people in the world have dementia. Every year, about 10 million people are diagnosed with it.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for nearly 60 to 70 percent of all dementia cases. Alzheimer’s is marked by buildup of toxic proteins in the brain. At present, about 5 million individuals are living with Alzheimer’s in the U.S.

This study adds to the body of evidence linking OSA with dementia. Last year, a study had suggested that people with OSA have increased amyloid beta levels in their brain. Increased amyloid beta levels, in turn, are tied to increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

The risk of developing OSA increases with age, as does the risk of dementia. It is estimated that about 18 million people in the U.S. have OSA. It has been linked to several health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and cancer.

This study, and a few others done earlier, suggests that OSA is also associated with greater risk of dementia in older adults.

The most common treatment for OSA is continuous positive airway pressure (or CPAP for short). It ensures that air is blown continuously during sleep so that the airways of the patients remain open.

Now the researchers want to check if CPAP can stave off cognitive decline in individuals who have mild cognitive impairment, which is linked to increased risk of dementia.




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