Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and structural changes in the brain are found to be linked. These changes are seen in early dementia. This information is found in a study published in the European Respiratory Journal. In OSA, the airway narrows during sleep, obstructing breathing. It reduces oxygen levels in the blood which may be linked to a reduction in the size of the temporal lobes in the brain and a decline in the patient’s memory.
The researchers say there is evidence that treating older people who have OSA may prevent or reduce dementia in this group. The study found that low oxygen levels during sleep tended to result in reduced thickness in the brain’s temporal lobes, areas involved in memory and areas affected in dementia.
The lead researcher in the study was Professor Sharon Naismith from the University of Sydney in Australia. She said, “Between 30% and 50% of the risk for dementia is due to modifiable factors, such as depression, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking. In recent years, researchers have recognized that various sleep disturbances are also risk factors for dementia. We wanted to look specifically at obstructive sleep apnea and its effects on the brain and cognitive abilities.”
Andrea Aliverti, Professor of Bioengineering at Politecnico di Milano, Italy is Head of the European Respiratory Society’s Assembly on Clinical Phisiology and sleep and said, “This research adds to evidence that OSA is also linked to dementia and suggests a likely mechanism for the link.”
Testing to find out if one has OSA can be done either in a sleep lab or in one’s own home. If someone is diagnosed with OSA, treatment may include CPAP (continuous positive air pressure), a custom-made oral device (fabricated by a qualified dentist), lifestyle change including weight loss and sleep position, or surgery. Untreated OSA reduces one’s lifespan an average of eight years.