Waking up to the Facts: Dementia and Sleep Apnea

April 4, 2016

The CDC, or Centers for Disease Control, estimates that between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Hence, there is a good chance that you or someone you love will have trouble sleeping at some point. In fact, most of us have a experienced at least one night of tossing and turning. After such a night, you most likely feel the effects the next day.Sleeping problems could be to blame for some cognitive disorders. You may have difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly. You may also suffer from flu-like effects that cause your body to feel inflamed and achy. Now, imagine feeling that way every day!

For more than 18 million Americans who suffer from sleep apnea this is normal, day-to-day life. What is sleep apnea? Does it have long-term consequences?

Apnea for Dummies

Millions of Americans don’t even know that they have sleep apnea. Therefore, let’s raise some awareness, since sleep is so crucial to well-being.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition in which breathing stops or becomes very shallow. This occurs in a couple of different forms. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea. When the muscles holding the airways open fail to function properly, breathing becomes difficult or even impossible. The second, and far less common, form of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea. This occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles holding the airway to function. Some common symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Snoring
  • High blood pressure
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Heart problems
  • Fatigue

It is often a family member who first notices signs of sleep apnea, such as when snoring is very loud, or the person is gasping for air. Sleep apnea is obviously not a condition that anyone wants to live with. However, are there long-term consequences if sleep apnea is not treated?

Sleep Apnea and Dementia

The Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, reports that there may, in fact, be a link between sleep-disordered breathing and dementia. A study involving  298 women with an average age of 82 found that 105 of those women had sleep-disordered breathing. Five years later, 45% of these women had developed dementia or a mild cognitive disability. This is compared with only 31% who slept normally. After controlling for many factors including race, medications taken, and smoking status, researchers found that 85% of those with sleep-disordered breathing were more likely to develop cognitive problems.

Sleep is crucial to long-term memory retention. However, oxygen plays a vital role in mental capacity. Reduced oxygen levels over time can therefore play a major part in the development of cognitive disorders and dementia.

What Do I  Do if I Have Sleep Apnea?

There are many options for those that have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Some include simple lifestyle changes such as losing weight. Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake will also aid you in your battle against sleep apnea.

If these measures are not enough, breathing aids, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – a device that uses a mask to create mild pressure to keep airways open – may help. A very common apparatus, CPAP is often quite effective, and can improve cognitive function by increasing oxygen to the brain.

While there is no cure for dementia at this time, there are measures that can be taken to improve cognitive function by increasing oxygen to the brain.

Jason Sager

We hope this was helpful. If you have any questions or if you know of a senior who could benefit from our vast array of home care services in Fairfax Annandale, please call us at 703.750.6644 or email us. We work with most long term care insurance companies as well as Veterans Affairs, and Workers' Compensation.

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