Please welcome Dr. Anthony DiMarco, MD, Medical Director and Professor of Physiology at Case Western Reserve University
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Scientists Discover Link Between Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s

Scientists Discover Link Between Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s

The list of dangerous health problems associated with sleep apnea just keeps getting longer. As researchers work to better understand the causes, complications, and the best treatment options for OSA, they are also finding more health conditions connected to it. Now, studies have found a link between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease.

It has been known for some time that obstructive sleep apnea has been shown to cause daytime fatigue, headaches, and cognitive impairments like memory loss, confusion, slow reaction time, and depression. It has also been connected to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and heart disease. Recently, studies have also revealed that those with sleep apnea may also be at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

New Research Connecting Sleep Apnea to Alzheimer’s Disease

Neurologists have been studying the relationship between sleep disorders, long-term sleep deprivation, and increased signs of dementia for a number of years. Data points to a link from disrupted sleep patterns and lack of oxygen to faulty memory and brain function.

At the latest annual meeting held by the American Academy of Neurology, scientists from the Mayo Clinic presented evidence of a link specifically to Alzheimer’s. The disease is a progressive form of dementia which damages memory and inhibits other crucial mental functions.

This new study revealed that older adults who have been reported to stop breathing while asleep have higher amounts of a certain biomarker know as tau. Because accumulated tau is a sign of Alzheimer’s, the doctors fear that it means that people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea are more at risk for the disease.

In a healthy brain, the tau protein helps transport nutrients in neurons. In patients with Alzheimer’s, however, tau deposits make tangles inside the neurons. These abnormal formations then begin to block communication between synapses and inhibit normal brain function. Scientists have hypothesized that Alzheimer’s disease, in part, is caused by high levels of tau in the area of the brain that is key to memory and the understanding of time.

Watch this video to learn more about how continuing sleep apnea therapy can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

New important research is also looking at how effective treatment can decrease the health risks caused by sleep apnea. Some doctors have reported that therapy can slow the progression of dementia and that ongoing use of a CPAP device slows deterioration of cognition, sleep, and mood in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and OSA.

More About the Research Procedure

The preliminary study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and lead by Dr. Diego Z. Carvalho. It included 288 patients over the age of 65 who do not currently show signs of failing memory or dementia. Data was gathered by examining the brains of the patients participating in the study using PET scans. Researchers were looking for collections of tau tangles in the temporal lobe of the brain.

Within this group, 15% of the patients had spouses or partners who had reported incidents of apnea while they were asleep. The study found that those who had a history of sleep apnea showed 4.5% higher tau levels in their entorhinal cortex than others. Researchers controlled for factors like age, sex, cardiovascular problems, and other sleep disorders.

Limitations of This Study

The scientific community agrees that there is still much to learn in this field. From this initial research project, it was unclear if sleep apnea contributed to the development of Alzheimer’s or vice versa. It is possible that Alzheimer’s disease makes patients predisposed to sleep disorders or that the conditions are related in a different way.

Sleep Studies on the Horizon

In the future, more participants will be needed for analysis to prove a causal relationship. Specific sleep testing will also be necessary to diagnosis those suspected of having sleep apnea. New studies should look at the effect of successful treatment for OSA on the development of dementia. Some recent research has shown that CPAP therapy, for example, can reverse brain damage caused by OSA. The hope is that effective treatment could also decrease the signs of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive problems as patients age.

Is Sleep Apnea on the Rise? Read more here.

Good Sleep Is Crucial for Good Health

Thankfully, our understanding of the important role that sleep plays in keeping us healthy and effective therapies for sleep disorders is always evolving. Today, there are multiple treatment options that are helping more people to sleep, and live, well. If you are having problems getting quality rest, you should seek a diagnosis and request sleep testing. This is a key measure of ensuring good overall health.

Call Sleep Health Solutions in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio at (330) 923-0228 to schedule a consultation today.

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