Researchers at the New York University recently discovered a relationship between sleep apnea and early onset Alzheimer’s.

NBC News featured the new study yesterday. The study determined that subjects suffering from sleep apnea, on average, were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) nearly 10 years sooner than the subjects who did not suffer from breathing issues while sleeping.

Also Alzheimer’s disease development also seemed to be accelerated. Those people who suffered from sleep apnea were diagnosed, on average, five years before the people who did not have breathing interruptions during sleep.

Dr. Andrew Varga, co-author of the study an instructor in medicine at the New York University Sleep Disorders Center: “ This study is assisting to the emerging story that sleep apnea may be contributing in some way to the acceleration of cognitive decline as you age. And that is potentially another food reason to get evaluated and treated”.

Previous research has found that sleep apnea is surprisingly quite common in older adults. Sleep apnea affects up to 53 percent of men and 26 percent of women. With many of the cases going unreported.

Dr. Varga’s study reviewed the medical history of 2,470 people between the ages of 55 to 90 who had been a part of a previous study to look for markers of Alzheimer’s. As the study’s beginning, the subjects were organized as those free of memory and thinking problems, those with mild cognitive impairment, or those with Alzheimer’s disease. At this point researchers found that sleep apnea was associated with an accelerated decline in cognitive functions.

Although, treatment for breathing problems during sleep appears to be protective, delaying MCI approximately 10 years. Basically, after seeking treatment for sleep apnea, your cognitive abilities decline at the same speed as those without sleep apnea.

But, researchers were unable to find out exactly HOW sleep apnea accelerates the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Charles Atwood, a sleep specialist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, “sleep apnea is associated with repetitive drops in the blood oxygen level, which can affect various organs in the body differently. They often don’t wake up enough that they are conscious of being awake. Then they wake up in the morning feeling really tired and un-refereshed.”

Dr. Vaga from the research time thinks that lower amounts of oxygen during the night may damage certain parts of the brain. “ It is known that certain neurons in the hippocampus-where much of Alzheimer’s is thought to start- are exquisitely sensitive to drops in oxygen. Sleep apnea may just stress those neurons out”.

Another explanations I that interrupted sleep interrupts the brain’s housecleaning. Sleep is when your brain cleans up its daily wasted. If your sleep is disturbed, then your brain may not be able to complete their mission, leaving an accumulation of the proteins that gunk up nerve cells.

Whatever the relationship between the sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s it is important to watch for symptoms and be screened by your doctor for sleep apnea.

For further online information and resources, visit Live Oak's Mental Health and Alzheimer's Resource section

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