New data reveals connection between sleep apnoea and Alzheimer’s disease

Nov 12, 2022
Link between sleep apnoea and dementia revealed. Source: University of Queensland

Scientists have uncovered the link between sleep apnoea and an increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) identified the link through a study involving sleep deprivation in mice.

Professor Elizabeth Coulson from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute and School of Biomedical Sciences said the study saw a “casual relationship” between cognitive disease and lack of oxygen.

“We found sleep deprivation alone in mice caused only mild cognitive impairment,” Professor Coulson said.

“But we developed a novel way to induce sleep-disrupted breathing and found the mice displayed exacerbated pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It demonstrated that hypoxia – when the brain is deprived of oxygen – caused the same selective degeneration of neurons that characteristically die in dementia.”

Coulson said the study indicates the use of a CPAP machine to treat the sleeping disorder could lower a person’s risk of dementia.

“It’s estimated around 50 per cent of elderly people have obstructive sleep apnoea when their throat muscles intermittently collapse and block the airway during sleep causing their breathing to stop and start,” she said.

“We couldn’t fit CPAP to mice, but we experimentally prevented the hypoxia and this stopped the cognitive impairment and neuron death, and also reduced the Alzheimer’s pathology.

“This suggests that CPAP treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea has the potential to reduce dementia risk.”

The professor highlighted that the study’s findings didn’t mean that everyone with sleep apnoea would develop dementia, but that it was important to “define the ‘at risk’ population” in a bid to try and prevent the disease from developing.

“Thirty per cent of people with obstructive sleep apnoea being fitted for CPAP machines already display signs of dementia-like cognitive impairment,” Coulson said.

“Unfortunately the hospital system isn’t referring those people to dementia clinics.

“Some dementia clinicians have reported their patient’s memory has improved after their sleep problems were identified and treated.”

Coulson said the study had now moved on to human trials.

“Early-stage human trials are underway with sleep clinicians in Brisbane and Sydney to determine the correlation between hypoxia and sustained cognitive impairment, and whether CPAP can reduce dementia risk.

“I would strongly recommend anyone with obstructive sleep apnoea use a CPAP machine to maintain cognitive function, as well as assist with other health issues.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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