A panel of scientists from the New York University recently discovered that people who developed various sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea, often experience drastic cognitive deterioration and memory loss.
Same cognitive symptoms were observed to appear several years later in patients who do not suffer from sleeping disorders. Sleep apnea is a phenomenon that occurs when airways are somehow obstructed, often causing snoring. Specialists believe they have pinned down the connection between this sleep disorder and early dementia signals: reduced blood flow to the brain.
Ricardo Osorio, the professor leading the American research team explained that a poor cardiovascular health is one of the leading risk factors in developing Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, the intermittent deprivation of oxygen (hypoxia) caused by sleep apnea could very likely present an additional risk factor.
Almost 2,500 people averaging 73 of age took part in the study. They underwent various tests which showed that participants who suffered from disrupted breathing during sleep developed first stages of cerebral impairment almost a decade before those who did not.
Previous research has already established that such symptoms of mild cognitive deterioration are usually preceding a more focused diagnose of Alzheimer’s. However, in the light of the new study, researchers believe treating sleep apnea could also help reduce the ever-growing rate of dementia.
Professor Osorio explained that a lot of the population is still ignorant about the possible link between sleep disorders and the increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the nearer future. That’s why he supports raising the awareness over this important health issue, even though experts admit there is very little evidence that treating sleep disorders causes a significant drop.
However, the problem of disrupted breathing on its own needs more attention from doctors, as it might have serious effects on the brain. More than 20 percent of the general population experiences breath problems during sleep – with men and older adults being more prone to developing such issues.
In order for a sleep apnea diagnosis to be called, the patient usually experiences episodes when they stop breathing for up to 10 seconds. This sleep disorder was previously linked to higher blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks and sometimes diabetes.
Dr. Simon Ridley with the Alzheimer’s Research UK supports the study, saying it adds to the previous evidence that this deprivation of oxygen could very likely be a risk factor for older people. The brain needs a constant, good supply of oxygen, and studies have already shown a healthy intake of oxygen is linked to a later appearance of memory loss and cognitive problems.
In general, sleep problems are common among a lot of people, but this study, in particular, focused on sleep apnea – which only affects less than 5 percent. It is also important to note that snoring might be caused by sleep apnea, but it is not the cause in all people who snore.
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