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Does Sleep Apnea Help Cause Dementia?

Recent research seems to indicate that those suffering from obsessive sleep apnea (OSA), which is characterized by repeated bouts of breathing cessation during sleep, are more prone to develop dementia, especially among older men.

One such study, conducted by researchers at the University of San Francisco on veterans, found that those with OSA or even insomnia (cautionary note here for you sufferers of insomnia) were 30 percent more likely to develop dementia. The key seems to be that good sleep (seven or eight hours including deep and REM sleep) helps cleanse the brain of Alzheimer’s-related compounds.

Specifically, the researchers found that elderly men who had less oxygen circulating in their blood during sleep tended to show more “microinfarcts” in the brain. Microinfarcts are tiny abnormalities in brain tissue that can precede dementia.

However, other scientists and researchers do not buy totally into a cause-and-effect relationship between sleep apnea and dementia. Observes Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago: “All this shows is a linkage, not cause-and-effect.”

Researchers at Stanford University go even further in saying that sleep apnea itself may be an indicator of Alzheimer’s later in life. Says Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, director of the center for narcolepsy at Stanford’s Center for Human Sleep Research: “Sleep apnea may actually be the symptom of a very early form of brain injury.”

Anyway, our point here is not to scare you, but if this information does scare you into action on your sleep difficulties, all the better.

We already know that sleep apnea is associated with obesity, hypertension, diabetes, chronic heart disease and even stroke, so those are plenty enough in the way of reason to get you to seek help. Contemplating Alzheimer’s is just one more solid reason to schedule an appointment with a sleep professional today.

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