Sleep Apnea, Heavy Snoring May Be Related to Thinking and Memory Decline at an Early Age

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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According to a recent study published in the journal Neurology, sleep apnea and heavy snoring may be related to thinking and memory decline at an early age. Results from this research also indicate that the decline may be delayed with the use of a breathing machine.

“Abnormal breathing patterns during sleep such as heavy snoring and sleep apnea are common in the elderly, affecting about 52 percent of men and 26 percent of women,” said study author Ricardo Osorio, MD, with the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York in a recent news release.

The research team reviewed medical records of 2,470 individuals aged between 55 and 90 years. Participants were classified in three groups: either with mild cognitive impairment (MCI); as free of memory and thinking problems, or with Alzheimer’s. The team also examined people with untreated sleep breathing problems versus those without them and also treated people with sleep breathing problems versus untreated.

The results revealed that those individuals with sleep breathing problems had their MCI diagnosis about 10 years before than those individuals without sleep breathing problems. From those individuals who developed MCI, individuals with sleep breathing problems developed at median age of 77 years, in comparison to a mean age of 90 years for those individuals without the problems.

Among the group of participants with sleeping problems, the researchers found that they developed Alzheimer’s disease five years before those without sleep breathing problems, at a median age of 83 years versus 88 years. People who were treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for their breathing problems, had their MCI diagnosed approximately 10 years later compared to those that were not treated for their breathing problems, or at age 82 instead of age 72.

“The age of onset of MCI for people whose breathing problems were treated was almost identical to that of people who did not have any breathing problems at all,” Osorio said in the news release. “Given that so many older adults have sleep breathing problems, these results are exciting — we need to examine whether using CPAP could possibly help prevent or delay memory and thinking problems.”

Osorio mentioned in the news release that more research is necessary. “These findings were made in an observational study and as such, do not indicate a cause-and-effect relationship,” said Osorio in the news release. “However, we are now focusing our research on CPAP treatment and memory and thinking decline over decades, as well as looking specifically at markers of brain cell death and deterioration.”