Sleep Apnea May Raise Risk of Dementia in Elderly Women
Elderly women with sleep apnea, a disorder that causes pauses in breathing during sleep, have twice the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia than those without the condition, a study found.
The research, which followed 298 elderly women for five years, suggests doctors should pay more attention to the disorder for its potential harm to the brain, according to the study's authors. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Sleep apnea is a common condition in elderly people and is infrequently diagnosed and treated, said Katie Stone, a sleep disorders specialist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco and a study author. The findings merit further study on whether treating and preventing sleep apnea can prevent or slow down the development of mild cognitive impairment and dementia, she said.
"It does appear having healthy sleep is important to health," Stone said. "The prevalence of sleep apnea definitely increases as people age. In many of these women, it's possible it has been going on for many years. It's really important when people first notice they're having problems with their sleep, they get it addressed."
Although the study only involved women, it's likely similar results may be seen in men, Stone said.
In sleep apnea, the airways from the lungs to the mouth and nose collapse during sleep, hampering the ability to inhale, the researchers said. Those with the condition usually snore and awaken many times during the night for small amounts of time, gasping for air.
It's unknown exactly how sleep apnea might lead to cognitive impairment and dementia, though healthy oxygen levels in the body are important to the brain and other organs, Stone said. Over time, chronic intermittent lack of oxygen may cause cognitive problems, Stone said.
Researchers in the study looked at 298 women without dementia whose average age was 82. The women had their sleep monitored to determine if they had sleep apnea.
They found that 105 women had sleep apnea, also known as sleep-disordered breathing, which caused them to have 15 or more events an hour while they slept. …