Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes your breathing to shorten and repeatedly paused when you are asleep. It is a disorder that can cause more harm than just decreasing the quality of your sleep and making you feel exhausted. Also, sleep and its possible role in protecting your brain have lately become a critical area for dementia research. This latest study observes a link between heavy snoring and sleep apnea, and mild cognitive decline or dementia at an earlier age than usual in individuals.
What is Sleep Apnea and Dementia?
The National Sleep Foundation reports that more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. Nearly half of the population that snores loudly has obstructive sleep apnea which reduces the ability of their back throat muscles to keep the airway open.
Dementia refers to a cognitive disorder or a group of symptoms which causes a progressive decline of a person's mental and thinking capabilities. It deprives them of their power to function normally. The World Health Organization reports that around 50 million people all over the world, have dementia.
Are They Linked?
Researchers from New York University studied data from almost 2,500 people between the age group of 55 to 90. The participants included cognitively normal individuals, those who suffered from mild cognitive impairment, and those who had Alzheimer’s dementia. The participants were questioned about snoring and sleep apnea. Their cases were followed up for 2-3 years, on a half-yearly basis for recording any changes in their cognitive status. Here is an outline of some of the important findings of this study:
The scientists found that people with sleep apnea were prone to developing memory problems and other mild cognitive impairment (MCI) signs at an earlier age than compared to people without such sleep disorders.
MCI often leads to Alzheimer’s dementia, but not everyone with MCI develops Alzheimer’s. The link between disruption of breathing during sleep and MCI stayed strong even after considering the effects of the factors associated with high risk of cognitive decline. These factors include Alzheimer’s-related genes, heart disease, gender, education, and depression.
Mild cognitive impairment refers to the state when your memory is altered to the extent that it is noticeable to others; however, you may be able to manage your daily functioning even with MCI.
While the exact reason behind how sleep disorders are increasing the chance of MCI or Alzheimer’s can’t be determined, it’s likely that even brief disrupted breathing could strip brain neurons of vital oxygen. Also, delayed and abnormal blood flow could be a result of hypertension and increased cholesterol levels.
It was observed that the drop in blood oxygen levels due to OSA might be linked to a decrease in the temporal lobes of the brain and a corresponding decline in memory.
Other studies have also revealed that amyloid is the protein accountable for Alzheimer’s which is likely to accumulate in the daytime when the nerves are active and deteriorates at night during deep sleep. If people wake up from a deep slumber because of their apnea or snoring, they are deprived of the prolonged phases of low amyloid production. The material can collect to form plaques.
The scientists also observed that people who addressed their sleep breathing disorders with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, were diagnosed with cognitive problems nearly 10 years after than individuals whose complications were not treated.
The Best Apnea Treatment
CPAP is considered the ideal treatment for sleep apnea. It requires patients to wear a mask over their face or nose while they sleep. The mask which is connected to a pump diffuses airflow into the nasal passages to help keep the airway free.
The research also linked sleep breathing disorders to an early start to Alzheimer’s dementia. The researchers say that there is a need to study whether using CPAP could help in preventing or delaying the memory and thinking problems.
[Related Post: Sleep Apnea is More Alarming Than You May Realize]
Snoring is likely to increase with age, so it’s essential to go for regular health checkups (as you get older) to counter the adverse effects. It’s also important to learn about the symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention of sleep apnea, and as to how sleep apnea is related to dementia for choosing the right treatment.
Today, Dental Sleep Medicine combines medicine and dentistry successfully to help resolve the problems faced by physicians while addressing the challenges of keeping the airway unobstructed during sleep.