Sleep apnea’s direct connection to cognitive decline

If you snore loudly at night, wake up with a dry mouth or a headache or feel irritable and sleepy during the day, these are signs you could be living with a dangerous sleep condition known as obstructive sleep apnea or OSA.

Because people with OSA stop breathing repeatedly throughout the night, depriving the body of much-needed oxygen, it’s a condition that’s been linked to everything from cardiovascular complications, including stroke, to erectile dysfunction.

And then there are OSA’s effects on the brain…

While past research has shown an undeniable link between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s, most scientists and medical professionals have blamed the connection on underlying conditions.

But according to a study by researchers in the UK, Germany and Australia, sleep apnea is a direct cause of premature cognitive decline that can steal your brain health, cognitive abilities and more…

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Are you at risk for sleep apnea?

Sadly, sleep apnea is an extremely underdiagnosed condition. While experts say that as much as 30 percent of men and 15 percent of women have OSA, an estimated 80 percent of them are completely unaware of it. Studies have even shown that sleep apnea may be more dangerous in women.

In addition to the signs of OSA I mentioned above (snoring, daytime sleepiness, etc.), it’s important to understand who’s at risk. Major risk factors for OSA include:

  • Middle or old age
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic nasal blockage.

Starving your brain of oxygen while you sleep

So how bad is sleep apnea for your brain?

Those British, German and Australian researchers set out to find out.

The team studied a group of 27 men between the ages of 35 and 70 with a new diagnosis of mild to severe OSA but without any co-morbidities. Basically, these men were otherwise in good shape and at a healthy weight.

The researchers then matched the participants with a similar control group, but these individuals did not have OSA.

And sure enough…

When they put both groups through a battery of tests for cognitive function, those with OSA were clearly on the losing end.

The results showed that patients with severe OSA suffered from:

  • Poorer vigilance
  • Reduced executive functioning and attention
  • Diminished short-term visual recognition memory
  • Poor social and emotional recognition

OSA even led to problems with psychomotor and impulse control.

According to the researchers, these changes were most likely due to low oxygen and high carbon dioxide in the blood, changes in blood flow to the brain, sleep fragmentation, and neuroinflammation in OSA patients.

“This complex interplay is still poorly understood, but it’s likely that these lead to widespread neuroanatomical and structural changes in the brain and associated functional cognitive and emotional deficits,” said lead author, said Dr. Ivana Rosenzweig.

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Relieving the risks of OSA

If you’re living with any of the symptoms of OSA, the time to get checked by your doctor is now to reduce your risk of cognitive decline.

Treatment for the condition generally involves using a CPAP machine at night, which helps you breathe by blowing compressed air into your airway to keep it open.

While many skip using the machine because it’s noisy and uncomfortable, it’s a small price to pay to keep your brain safe.

To reduce discomfort, be sure to have your mask professionally fitted.

Other options to help reduce mild OSA include avoiding alcohol, losing excess weight, exercising and sleeping on your side.

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Obstructive sleep apnea may directly cause early cognitive decline – EurekAlert!

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.