Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Related to Sleep Apnea

A study (Sleep-disordered Breathing Advances Cognitive Decline in the Elderly) published May, 2015 by the American Academy of Neurology ( shows that treatment of sleep breathing disorders like sleep apnea can stave off mild cognitive impairment by up to 10 years in the elderly. The study showed that it can also slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who lived with untreated disorders.

What is a Sleep Related Breathing Disorder?

A Sleep Related Breathing Disorder can be one of any number of things like Sleep Apnea, Hypopnea, Snoring, etc. Of these, the most dangerous is Sleep Apnea which causes many to stop breathing hundreds of times in a night. Sleep Apnea is often caused by the soft tissue around the throat either losing elasticity with age or being pressed down at night due to the sleeper being overweight. In either case, the air supply is easily cut off. Sleep Apnea is extremely common in both men and women.

What is the Link Between Oxygen Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease?

When one stops breathing at night, the oxygen supply to the brain drops significantly. This happens many times throughout the night. In an interview with NBC News, the co-author of the aforementioned study, Dr Andrew Varga, stated, “It’s known that certain neurons in the hippocampus – where much of Alzheimer’s is thought to start – are exquisitely sensitive to drops in oxygen. Sleep apnea may just stress those neurons out.” The ultimate effects of Sleep Apnea on the brain are not 100% clear.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

man wearing a CPAP

Man wearing a CPAP

There are many methods of treatment for Sleep Apnea and other Sleep Related Breathing Disorders. The gold standard in treatment of Sleep Apnea is called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) which goes over the mouth at night and keeps the airway constantly open. There is also a less obtrusive Oral Appliance that is custom made to comfortably re-align the jaw so that the airway is kept open at night. Please contact Northstate Sleep Therapy for more information about treatment of Sleep Related Breathing Disorders.