The professional blog of Doctors Dan Bruce, Steve Bruce, Rosa Pothier and Rob Ririe
Sleep Apnea and Dementia
A new study suggests that sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea may contribute to the brain changes that precede dementia. While previous studies have shown an association between sleep apnea and dementia, this is the first study which may help to explain that relationship.
Sleep apnea causes interruptions in breathing during sleep which decrease blood oxygen levels. According to the study results, men who had less oxygen circulating in their blood during sleep had more "microinfarcts" in their brain. Microinfarcts are small irregularities in the brain tissue that precede dementia. Men who spent less time in restorative sleep were also found to have more brain atrophy. Both microinfarcts and atrophy are more common in patients with dementia.
While this study does not conclusively prove a cause and effect relationship between sleep apnea and dementia, it does add to the understanding of the association. More studies are needed to further explore the role sleep apnea plays in the progression of memory loss.