Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is fairly prevalent in the US, with more than 2,000 new cases reported a year.
Sufferers experience intermittent periods of shallow breathing throughout the night, which affects the quality of their rest, mental health, and weight. Age and obesity are the most prominent risk factors and treatment consists of breathing assistance devices, like a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machineand lifestyle changes.
OSA is generally thought to be benign, but a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease hints at serious complications for those who fail to treat the disorder.
The paper was co-authored by researchers at Monash University and led by Dr. Melinda Jackson from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, In it, the team determined that OSA is linked to increased risk for dementia.
More discreetly, participants who suffered from the sleep condition evidenced an abundance of a protein, called beta-amyloid, which accumulates on the walls of the arteries in the brain.
“Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been linked to an increase risk of dementia. Few studies have cross-sectionally examined whether clinically-confirmed OSA is associated with a higher brain amyloid burden,”the researchers wrote in the new paper. “The aim of this study was to compare brain amyloid burden in individuals with untreated OSA and healthy controls, and explore associations between amyloid burden and polysomnographic and subjective measures of sleep, demographics, and mood.”
Severe sleep apnea is associated with higher brain amyloid burden
The authors derived their research from 34 participants who were recently diagnosed with untreated OSA and 12 participants who had a range of asymptomatic sleep disorders.
Brain amyloid burden comparisons were established between the two groups via a PET brain scan, alongside assessments of sleep, demographics, and mood.
Consistently, those who belonged to the OSA group demonstrated a higher amyloid burden, poorer sleep efficiency, and less time spent in stage N3 sleep-which denotes a regenerative sleep stage wherein our body heals itself.
Severe forms of OSA yielded the most robust associations with elevations of brain amyloid proteins.
“Amyloid burden was elevated in the OSA group relative to controls, and was significantly higher in those with severe OSA relative to mild/moderate OSA. Correlation analyses indicated that higher amyloid burden was associated with a higher Non-REM apnea hypopnea index, poorer sleep efficiency, and less time spent in stage N3 sleep, when controlling for age,” the authors concluded.
“The significance of finding the association between increased brain amyloid in patients with OSA will allow for further research to explore in more detail the implications of treating OSA for reducing dementia risk.”