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Sleep apnea accelerates memory loss and cognitive decline

By Dental Tribune International
April 19, 2015

NEW YORK, USA: A new study conducted by researchers in the U.S. has provided evidence that heavy snoring and sleep apnea may be linked to cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer's disease at an earlier age. The findings also suggested that common continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment could delay progression of cognitive impairment.

For the study, the researchers reviewed the medical history of 2,470 participants aged 55–99 who either had no memory or thinking problems, mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease.

The analysis found that participants suffering from sleep apnea were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment about ten years earlier than were participants without sleep breathing problems. On average, those who developed cognitive impairment were 77 years old at the time of diagnosis, while the latter group was diagnosed around the age of 90. Sleep apnea patients developed Alzheimer's about five years earlier than those without the condition, at an average age of 83 versus 88.

Looking at differences between participants with treated and untreated sleep apnea, the researchers found that patients treated with CPAP developed cognitive impairment at an age of 82, while untreated patients were diagnosed with cognitive impairment about ten years earlier.

"The age of onset of mild cognitive impairment for people whose breathing problems were treated was almost identical to that of people who did not have any breathing problems at all," said study author Dr. Ricardo Osorio, research assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University Center for Brain Health. "Given that so many older adults have sleep breathing problems, these results are exciting―we need to examine whether using CPAP could possibly help prevent or delay memory or thinking problems."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50–70 million U.S. adults have sleep or wakefulness disorders. In particular, men and people older than 65 have a higher risk of sleep apnea. Left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious and life-shortening consequences, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and impotence.

The study, titled "Sleep-Disordered Breathing Advances Cognitive Decline in the Elderly," was published online on April 15 in the Neurology journal, a publication of the American Academy of Neurology, ahead of print.

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