A recent study published in Neurology has highlighted a link between sleep apnea and brain volume in areas linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
This adds to the growing body of research suggesting that sleep disorders may be linked to an increased risk of dementia.
The study involved 122 older adults with an average age of 69 who had no memory problems. Some of these people had signs of early Alzheimer’s disease, called amyloid plaques, in their brains, while others did not.
Geraldine Rauchs, the study’s author, said: “We found that people with amyloid plaques and severe sleep apnea are more likely to have lower volumes in parts of their brain that are important for memory.”
What the study found
Participants in the study had brain scans, memory tests and even sleep studies performed at home. Further memory tests were carried out after an average of 21 months.
What was striking was that among people with amyloid plaques, those with more severe sleep apnea also had smaller brain volume in regions important for memory and linked to Alzheimer’s.
This could mean loss of brain cells. This link was not found in people without amyloid plaques.
“Simply put, it looks like sleep apnea may be particularly bad for those who are already at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” Rauchs said.
Why this is important and next steps
Although this study doesn’t prove that sleep apnea causes a reduction in brain volume, it does show that there is a connection. This is particularly important for people who are already showing early signs of Alzheimer’s.
People with lower hippocampal volume at the start of the study also showed lower scores on a specific memory test at the end of the study.
Interestingly, no direct connection was found between sleep apnea and poorer memory scores.
It is worth noting that the study had some limitations. First, the same memory test was used at the beginning and end of the study.
This could mean that some memory loss may not have been detected because people became familiar with the test.
Rauchs points out that further research is needed.
The crucial question is whether treating sleep apnea could actually help improve memory and potentially slow brain aging, especially in people who are already showing early signs of Alzheimer’s.
For now, it’s clear that sleep apnea may not just be a sleep problem. It could also be a problem for brain health, especially for those who are already at risk.
Further studies could help us understand whether treating sleep apnea could be a new way to combat some forms of dementia.
If you are interested in Alzheimer’s, please read Studies on the Root Cause of Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer’s and 5 Steps to Protect Against Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
For more information about brain health, check out recent studies on this dental disease linked to dementia. The results show that this MIND diet can protect your cognitive functions and prevent dementia.
The research results can be found in neurology.
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