Study Links Sleep Apnea To Increased Dementia Risk

shutterstock_237521380Sleeping problems may have an adverse effect on your health over time. It may even have an effect over certain health conditions. Recent studies even suggest that problems like sleep apnea may play a role in the increased risk for dementia.

Findings by researchers from the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu may provide clues as to how sleep disturbances may affect a person’s risk of developing dementia in old age. Past studies have suggested that poor sleep may play a role in the mental decline of older adults. But the reasons then remain unclear. The new findings may help shed some light into this.

The findings indicate that people with breathing difficulties such as sleep apnea spend less time in deep sleep and may be at a greater risk of experiencing brain changes that precede dementia. Although the scientists say that the findings do not prove that breathing disorders may lead to dementia, it may add to the increasing evidence that poor sleep may play a role in mental decline among older adults.

The researchers based their findings on brain autopsies coming from 167 elderly Japanese -American men who took part in a long-term study before their deaths. Part of the study involved monitoring the men’s oxygen levels and brain activity as they slept. The researchers found out that one quarter of the participants with the lowest oxygen levels during sleep were four times as likely to show microinfarcs in the brain as compared to those with the highest oxygen levels.

Microinfarcs are tiny abnormalities found in brain tissue which usually precedes dementia. Both microinfarcs and atrophy are common in the brain of people with dementia. Elderly people who spend less time in deep restorative sleep tend also to show more atrophy in the brain tissue. As the new findings show, microinfarcs may develop as a result of low oxygen levels in the brain.

Lower oxygen levels in the brain can be caused by conditions such as emphysema as well as sleep apnea. People with these conditions tend to experience repeated stoppage in breathing during sleep before starting up again.

But the researchers indicate that sleep apnea does not necessarily lead to dementia. But the effects may likely play a role. Scientists are now looking closely into what low oxygen levels in the brain or less slow-wave or deep sleep may affect dementia risk in older people. Further studies may be needed to understand whether treating sleep apnea or boosting slow-wave sleep in older people may help stave off dementia. The findings of the said study were published December 10 in the online journal Neurology.

Source: Everyday Health


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