Obstructive sleep apnea is when breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep.
Research has shown people with this sleep disorder have an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, it is treatable.
In a new study, researchers found that obstructive sleep apnea is common in people with cognitive impairment.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Toronto in Canada.
Cognitive impairment includes memory and thinking problems that affect concentration, decision making and learning new things. The risk of cognitive impairment increases as people age.
Better sleep is beneficial to the brain and can improve cognitive skills.
In the study, the team tested 67 people with an average age of 73 who had cognitive impairment.
Participants completed questionnaires on sleep, cognition and mood. They also took a 30-point cognitive assessment to determine their level of cognitive impairment.
Questions included identifying the date and the city they were in and repeating words they had been asked to remember earlier in the test.
Participants were given at-home sleep apnea tests to determine if they had obstructive sleep apnea. The at-home test uses a monitor to track breathing patterns and oxygen levels during sleep.
Researchers found that 52% of study participants had obstructive sleep apnea.
People with the sleep disorder were 60% more likely to score lower on the cognitive test than people who did not have sleep apnea.
In addition, researchers found that the severity of obstructive sleep apnea corresponded with the degree of cognitive impairment as well as the quality of sleep for participants, including sleep time, how quickly they fell asleep, the efficiency of their sleep and how often they awoke at night.
The team says people with cognitive impairment should be assessed for obstructive sleep apnea because it can be treated by using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that helps keep the airway open at night.
However, not everyone who tries CPAP chooses to regularly use the therapy, and this may be a bigger challenge to people with thinking and memory problems.
One author of the study is Mark I. Boulos, M.D.
The study was presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 73rd Annual Meeting.
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