New research links sleep apnea and higher Alzheimer's risk

"The growing literature suggests that [obstructive sleep apnea], cognitive decline, and [Alzheimer's disease] are related," the study's author says.

New research has linked obstructive sleep apnea, a common condition, to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine and reported by Medical News Today found that people with the sleep condition had higher levels of amyloid beta, the main ingredient of the amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

It’s already known that obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the airways temporarily collapse, causing breathlessness while sleeping and thus disturbed sleep patterns, is linked to a higher risk of other serious health conditions including heart attack and type 2 diabetes.

It’s been more difficult to discover how obstructive sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s are linked, because people often suffer both of them simultaneously, making it hard to show that one caused the other.

But the study of more than 200 people who’d received no treatment for their sleep apnea found a link between the severity of sleep apnea and the concentration of amyloid beta in their cerebrospinal fluid.

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It can’t be ruled out that the heightened amyloid beta levels weren’t caused by very early and undiagnosed Alzheimer’s in people who also had sleep apnea, Medical News Today noted.

But the researchers argue that their findings indicate a link between cognitive decline and sleep apnea in the later years of life.

“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,” one of the study authors told Medical News Today.

Do you suffer from sleep apnea? Are you using a CPAP machine or another treatment? Has that helped?