Sleep Apnea May Boost Alzheimer's Risk

From Drugs.com - November 10, 2017

Sleep Apnea May Boost Alzheimer's Risk

FRIDAY, Nov. 10, 2017 -- If your sleep is continually disrupted by a condition called sleep apnea, you might face a higher chance of developing Alzheimer's down the road.

So claims a new study that has linked sleep apnea with an increase in the development of amyloid plaque in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers found that the more serious the sleep apnea was, the more plaque accumulated.

"Sleep apnea is very common among the elderly, and many are not aware they have it," said senior researcher Dr. Ricardo Osorio. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

An estimated 30 percent to 80 percent of the elderly suffer from sleep apnea, depending on how it's defined, the study authors noted.

Although none of the participants developed Alzheimer's over the two years of the study, those with sleep apnea accumulated amyloid plaque, which could trigger Alzheimer's in the future, Osorio said.

Sleep apnea occurs when you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep.

Those pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes, and they can occur 30 times or more an hour. Normal breathing usually starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Alzheimer's disease is a fatal condition in which memory deteriorates over time. Alzheimer's affects some 5 million older Americans, and as the millions of baby boomers age, that number will only grow.

Osorio suggested that treating sleep apnea would likely reduce the accumulation of amyloid plaque and also the risk of Alzheimer's.

Sleep is necessary for the brain to clear itself of amyloid, Osorio explained. "During sleep, the brain does housekeeping and clears some of the proteins that have accumulated during the day, including amyloid," he said.

But sleep apnea hinders the brain in its efforts to flush out these plaques, he added.

To understand the effect of sleep apnea on the development of brain plaque, Osorio and colleagues studied 208 men and women, aged 55 to 90, who were not suffering from any type of dementia.

The investigators collected samples of the participants' spinal fluid to measure a protein that indicates plaque development, and performed PET scans to measure the amount of plaque in the participants' brains.


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