MINNEAPOLIS – Obstructive Sleep Apnea is when breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. Research has shown that people with this sleep disorder are at increased risk of developing cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Still, it’s treatable. A preliminary study published today, February 28, 2021, found that obstructive sleep apnea is common in people with cognitive impairment. The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 73rd Annual Meeting, held virtually April 17-22, 2021.
Cognitive impairment includes memory and thinking problems that affect concentration, decision-making, and learning new things. The risk of cognitive impairment increases with age.
“Better sleep is beneficial to the brain and can improve cognitive skills. However, in our study we found that over half of people with cognitive impairment had obstructive sleep apnea, “said study author Mark I. Boulos, MD of the University of Toronto in Canada and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “We also found that those with the sleep disorder had lower scores on thinking and memory tests. It is important to fully understand how obstructive sleep apnea affects this population because treatment has the potential to improve thinking and memory skills and the general quality of life. “.”
The study enrolled 67 people with a mean age of 73 who had cognitive impairment. Participants completed questionnaires on sleep, cognition, and mood. They also took a 30-point cognitive score to determine their level of cognitive impairment. Questions included identifying the date and city they were in and repeating words to remember earlier on the test. The test scores range from zero to 30. A score of 26 or higher is considered normal, 18-25 means mild cognitive impairment, and 17 or lower means moderate to severe cognitive impairment.
Participants were given sleep apnea tests at home to see if they had obstructive sleep apnea. The home test uses a monitor to track breathing patterns and oxygen levels while you sleep.
The researchers found that 52% of the study participants had obstructive sleep apnea. People with the sleep disorder performed 60% more often on the cognitive test than people who did not have sleep apnea. People with the disorder had an average score of 20.5 compared to an average score of 23.6 for the people without the sleep disorder.
In addition, the researchers found that the severity of obstructive sleep apnea corresponded to the participants’ level of cognitive impairment as well as the quality of their sleep, including how long they slept, how long they fell asleep, how efficient they were, and how often they woke up at night.
“People with cognitive impairments should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea because it can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that helps keep the airways open at night,” said Boulos. “However, not everyone who tries CPAP chooses to use the therapy regularly, and this can be more of a challenge for people with thinking and memory problems. Future research should be directed towards finding ways to diagnose and treat the disease that are efficient and easy to use in people with cognitive impairment. “
One limitation of the study was that it used home sleep apnea tests, rather than laboratory sleep studies, to diagnose sleep apnea.
The study was funded by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship awarded to study author David R. Colelli and the LC Campbell Cognitive Neurology Research Unit at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, Canada. ResMed provided the home sleep apnea testing in kind, but was not involved in the design of the study.
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