02.06.2014
A multi-center research study led by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that sleep apnea may lead to cognitive impairment in elderly women.
Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is common in older adults, according to the study’s abstract. Compared to 193 women without sleep-disordered breathing, the 105 women with sleep-disordered breathing were found to be more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment or dementia.
Jeffrey ScheuerDetroit Sleep Health ExaminerJeff Scheuer is the owner of Mattress To Go in Shelby Township, Michigan. People who suffer from sleep apnea are at a high risk of developing memory problems and dementia as they get older, according to a recent study by the University of California, San Francisco and California Medical Center. Sleep apnea causes sufferers to literally stop breathing while they’re asleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night.
For their tests, the researchers looked at a number of specific factors connected with sleep apnea, including oxygen flow during sleep, duration of sleep and frequency of interruptions throughout the night. Although additional research is required, the study has already been acknowledged as an important step toward a better understanding of the seriousness of sleep apnea and the need for more effective treatment. Aside from the issue of effective treatment, the study also gives rise to questions about the importance of sleep for both physical and mental health. Of course, treating sleep apnea does not prevent all age-related decline of cognitive functions.


Elderly women who suffer from sleep apnea -- characterized by disrupted breathing and sleep and a reduction in the intake of oxygen -- are about twice as likely to develop dementia in the next five years as those without the condition, according to a multi-center study led by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco.
The findings, published in the August 10, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed for the first time what sleep specialists have long suspected but hadn't proved: that sleep apnea, also known as sleep-disordered breathing, can deprive the brain and other organs of the oxygen they need and, may, over time, trigger declines in cognitive ability.
In people with sleep apnea, the airways leading from the lungs to the nose and mouth collapse as the individual sleeps, interfering with the ability to inhale. While previous research had found an association between sleep apnea and dementia, those studies weren't structured to follow the impact of sleep apnea on people who had normal cognitive abilities at the onset. About four years later, sleep specialists came to the study subjects' homes and monitored the women as they slept using specialized equipment that measured brain activity, heart rhythm, leg movements, airflow, breathing activity in their chest and abdomen and the oxygen content of blood as it passed through their fingers.These instruments allowed researchers to track how often the women experienced apneas (the complete blockage or airflow) or hypopneas (a reduction of airflow of 30 percent or more) and how much time they spent in an oxygen-deprived state. Some previous studies have suggested that providing oxygen therapy to patients with Alzheimer's disease and sleep apnea slows their cognitive decline. Sleeping disorders, and sleep apnea in particular, have long been associated with dementia, but this is the first time researchers have suggested that sleep problems may actually contribute to the development of cognitive impairment as we age. The risk of developing dementia appeared to be directly linked to the amount of time the women experienced a decrease of oxygen flow – not to the hours of sleep they had or the number of sleep interruptions they went through.
But these latest results could change how the medical profession views the importance of sleep for both physical and mental health in general. The strength of the new findings comes from the fact that the 298 subjects began the study without dementia or measurable cognitive impairments, allowing researchers to measure the relationship between sleep apnea and mental acuity.


They also found that those with sleep apnea were almost twice as likely to become cognitively impaired. Women who had frequent episodes of low oxygen or spent a large portion of their sleep time in a state of hypoxia were more likely to develop cognitive impairment.
The new findings suggest that providing oxygen therapy to elderly people with sleep apnea may reduce the chances of them becoming cognitively impaired or delay the onset of mental decline. The researchers found that the women who were diagnosed with sleep apnea were twice as likely to develop memory decline and other symptoms of dementia.
The hope is that early diagnosis and effective treatment of chronic sleep disorders could at least help to slow down the spreading development of dementia as the average life expectancy continues to rise. Those who were found to be suffering from dementia or mild cognitive impairment at the initial assessment weren't included in the study.
Luis de Lecea, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California, who studies sleep disorders and their effects on memory and other brain functions in lab animals.



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