Sleep Apnea, Dementia Later in Life Linked

The link between poor sleep quality and greater overall health seems to grow stronger each day, and a new study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association explores the link between the common condition of sleep apnea and dementia.

The study looked at the effects of sleep disordered breathing on brain function, to determine whether the episodes of oxygen deprivation experienced throughout long periods of sleep each day had a long-term effect on cognitive abilities. Researchers included nearly 300 women in the study on sleep apnea and dementia, and the mean age of participants sat at 82. No participants reported symptoms of dementia or impaired cognitive function at the study’s commencement, but more than 100 suffered from sleep apnea- defined at 15 or more episodes of interrupted breathing per hour of sleep.

Five years after the study began, researchers tested participants on memory, attention
and concentration. Researchers then determined that the women who suffered from sleep apnea or some form of sleep disordered breathing were about twice as likely to also suffer mild cognitive impairment or dementia. Lead author of the study Kristine Yaffe, MD, a researcher with the University of California, San Francisco said that the study’s conclusions could have large implications for public health and dementia prevention. Yaffe said:

“We’ve known for some time that there is a link between SDB and brain function, but ours is the first study to demonstrate that SDB in cognitively normal older adults is a risk factor for the development of poor cognition over time… While we cannot conclude from these results that SDB causes cognitive impairment, our study suggests that it may be at least a contributing factor.”

The study recommends further research to determine whether preventative steps could be taken, particularly in light of an “aging population.”