If you’re the kind of person who suffers from insomnia or struggles to get a good night’s sleep, you could unintentionally be increasing your chances of developing dementia.
New research by the University of Queensland in Australia has investigated the impact sleep apnoea has when it comes to the risk of dementia. The UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute and School of Biomedical Sciences found that insufficient levels of oxygen during sleep, usually associated with sleep apnoea, can actually increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The research team is now looking into new clinical studies with patients who suffer from sleep apnoea to assess whether various treatments have the potential of lowering the risks of actually developing dementia.
Professor Elizabeth Coulson, who worked on the research, suggested that people who suffered from hypoxia as a result of their sleep apnoea were at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the research found that the condition that lowers oxygen levels in the blood meant these patients were three times more likely to developing the cognitive disease. Research so far has been focusing on what makes this occur and has found that hypoxia in particular leads to the deterioration of parts of the brain that are vital for learning and maintaining attention.
At present, sleep apnoea is a condition that impacts more than one million Australian adults, while it’s believed that more than 22 million Americans live with the condition. It usually occurs when the upper airways collapse while a person is asleep, leading them to momentarily stop breathing. The condition can be treated with the help of continuous airway pressure (CPAP) ventilators, although many people are still unaware that they have the condition.
The next phase of the research is to see how CPAP ventilators help when it comes to dementia and if they are an effective way of preventing the impacts of the disease. If the study, which will assess patients between the age of 55 and 75, is successful, it is hoped that research will shift to a focus of early intervention.
“Sleep disturbances can occur up to 10 years prior to Alzheimer’s disease,” Queensland Brain Institute Director Professor Pankaj Sah noted. “Considering that Alzheimer’s affects roughly one-third of the elderly population, this important research may inform preventative public health measures in the future.”
It is believed that more than half a million Australians will be living with dementia by 2025, so research like this could be an effective way of bringing this number down.
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