Could Treating Sleep Apnea Reduce Dementia Risk?

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A recent study has found that older adults who received positive airway pressure therapy (PAP) prescribed for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other kinds of dementia (DNOS). How are the two correlated, you might ask. Here is what Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Center found in their research. 

What is OSA and how does it affect dementia?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the upper airway collapses repeatedly throughout the night, preventing normal breathing during sleep. OSA is associated with a variety of other neurological and cardiovascular conditions, and many older adults are at high risk for OSA.

Approximately 5.8 million Americans currently living with a form of dementia. 

Research proves promising

Researchers from Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Centers analyzed Medicare claims of more than 50,000 Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older who had been diagnosed with OSA. Researchers examined if those people who used PAP were less likely to receive a new diagnosis of dementia or mild cognitive impairment over the next 3 years, compared to people who did not use PAP.

“We found a significant association between positive airway pressure use and lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia over three years, suggesting that positive airway pressure may be protective against dementia risk in people with OSA,” said lead author Galit Levi Dunietz, Ph.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of neurology and asleep epidemiologist.

The findings stress the impact of sleep on cognitive function. “If a causal pathway exists between OSA treatment and dementia risk, as our findings suggest, diagnosis and effective treatment of OSA could play a key role in the cognitive health of older adults,” said study principal investigator Tiffany J. Braley, M.D., M.S., an associate professor of neurology. 

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