Heavy Snoring, Sleep Apnea Linked to Earlier Memory Decline

People who snore heavily or suffer from sleep apnea may be at greater risk for memory and thinking decline at a younger age, according to a new study. The findings suggest that the use of a breathing machine may help intervene.

ÔÇťAbnormal breathing patterns during sleep such as heavy snoring and sleep apnea are common in the elderly, affecting about 52 percent of men and 26 percent of women,” said study author Ricardo Osorio, M.D., with the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York.

For the study, researchers evaluated the medical histories of 2,470 people ages 55 to 90. Participants were categorized as one of the following: free of memory and thinking problems, in early stages of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also compared people with untreated sleep breathing problems to those without sleep breathing problems, as well as untreated versus treated people with sleep breathing problems.

The findings show that those with sleep breathing problems were diagnosed with MCI an average of nearly 10 years earlier than people without sleep breathing problems. For example, when researchers examined only people who developed MCI or Alzheimer’s disease during the study, those with sleep breathing problems developed MCI at an average age of 77, compared to an average age of 90 for those without sleep breathing problems.

Among that group, those who had sleep breathing problems also developed Alzheimer’s disease five years earlier than those who did not have sleep breathing problems, at an average age of 83 versus 88.

The findings also showed that people who treated their sleep breathing problems with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine were diagnosed with MCI about 10 years later than those whose problems were not treated, or at age 82 instead of age 72.

“The age of onset of MCI for people whose breathing problems were treated was almost identical to that of people who did not have any breathing problems at all,” Osorio said.

“Given that so many older adults have sleep breathing problems, these results are exciting — we need to examine whether using CPAP could possibly help prevent or delay memory and thinking problems.”

“These findings were made in an observational study and as such, do not indicate a cause-and-effect relationship,” said Osorio.

“However, we are now focusing our research on CPAP treatment and memory and thinking decline over decades, as well as looking specifically at markers of brain cell death and deterioration.”

The study is published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Source: American Academy of Neurology