Another Study Links Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s Disease

October 12, 2020
Avatar for Kelley MingusKelley Mingus

Sleep apnea is an increasingly common problem in America, with researchers estimating that between nine and 38 percent of adults suffer from the sleep disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea, and can be caused by many things, including age, weight, and genetics. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder which causes the affected to stop and restart breathing throughout the night, causing them to wake repeatedly. This not only affects their sleep, it can affect their waking hours too, causing fatigue, depression, sluggishness, and the worsening of a host of other conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent study further examined the link between Alzheimer’s disease and sleep apnea, and the results were quite revealing. Researchers at the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT University in Bundoora, Australia conducted the study by examining samples from the brains of 34 people post-mortem. What they found was that the more severe the sleep apnea, the more damage to the area of the brain known as the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area of the brain which is related to retaining memories. According to the study, the hippocampus can also atrophy in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Within the brain, researchers found what are known as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which are commonly found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

So, what could be causing this link between the two conditions? Researchers in the study speculate that it could be oxygen deprivation, which occurs when patients with Alzheimer’s disease struggle to breathe as they sleep. This oxygen deprivation causes something called oxidative stress, which causes the buildup of the amyloid plaques found in the hippocampus. Researchers believe that because of the lack of oxygen, the amyloid plaques are not adequately cleared from the brain, causing them to build up inside and accumulate in the hippocampus.

As for sleep apnea solutions, the study also found that patients who underwent continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy had no difference in amyloid plaques, showing that at least in that study, CPAP did not lessen the presence of these lesions. No other methods of sleep apnea solutions were examined, however. Because the study sample was so small, more research needs to be conducted to draw any major conclusions, but part of the problem may be that CPAP is often unreliable because users don’t always wear their masks, rendering them ineffective at best.

Dr. Mingus offers solutions to your sleep apnea problems, with the use of custom orthotics that position the airway open, making it easier to breathe, without the use of a mask. This means your solution is more likely to work, getting you the sleep you want and hopefully helping to prevent serious comorbid conditions as well.