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Obstructive sleep apnea and Alzheimer's disease: The surprising link

by , 29 November 2017
Obstructive sleep apnea and Alzheimer's disease: The surprising link
Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of sleep apnea, may put elderly people at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. This is according to a new study published online in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

In the study, researchers report that biomarkers for amyloid beta, the plaque-building peptides associated with Alzheimer's disease, increase over time in elderly adults with obstructive sleep apnea in proportion to the severity of the sleep disorder. As a result, those with more apneas per hour had greater accumulation of brain amyloid over time. Keep reading for the full findings…

There are approximately 2.2 million people in South Africa with some form of dementia

Obstructive sleep apnea is even more common than Alzheimer’s disease, afflicting from 30% to 80% of the elderly, depending on how it’s defined.
“Several studies have suggested that sleep disturbances might contribute to amyloid deposits and accelerate cognitive decline in those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Ricardo S Osorio, MD, senior study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine in the United States. “However, so far it’s been challenging to verify causality for these associations because obstructive sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease share risk factors and commonly coexist.”
Dr Osorio added that the aim of this study was to explore the associations between obstructive sleep apnea severity and changes in Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers longitudinally, specifically weather amyloid deposits increase over time in healthy people with obstructive sleep apnea.


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Study ties obstructive sleep apnea to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease in elderly people

To reach their findings, Dr Osorio and his team looked at 209 people between ages 55 and 90 with normal cognition as measured by standardised tests and clinical evaluations. None of these people were depressed, referred to a sleep centre, used continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to sleep apnea or had a medical condition that might affect their brain function.
The researchers performed lumbar punctures to obtain the participants’ cerebrospinal fluid soluble A? levels ad then used positron emission tomography to measure A? deposits directly in the brain in a subset of participants. They found that more than 50% of the participants had obstructive sleep apnea. Of these participants, 36.5% had a mild form of the sleep disorder while 16.8% had a moderate to severe form.
From the total study sample, 104 of the participants took part in a two-year-long study that found a link between obstructive sleep apnea severity and a decrease in CSF A?42 levels over time. The researchers said this finding is compatible with an increase in amyloid deposits in the brain: It was confirmed in the subset of participants who underwent amyloid PET, which showed an increase in amyloid levels in those with obstructive sleep apnea.
“Results from this study and the growing literature suggesting that obstructive sleep apnea, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease are related, may mean that age tips the known consequences of obstructive sleep apnea from sleepiness, cardiovascular and metabolic dysfunction to brain impairment,” said Dr Osorio. “If this is the case, then the potential benefit of developing better screening tools to diagnose sleep apnea in the elderly who are often asymptomatic is enormous.”
If you suffer from sleep apnea, consult your doctor for advice on how to treat the condition – it may just help you stave off Alzheimer’s disease. 

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