We all know how important sleep is to good health. Consistently losing out on sleep can raise your risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other ailments. It can also double your risk of dementia.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common cause of sleep problems. OSA happens when the upper airway repeatedly collapses while you sleep, stopping you from breathing normally. It can affect people of all ages, but the risk of developing OSA rises as you get older.
Given the impact of sleep on cognition, scientists are exploring whether there’s a link between OSA and cognitive decline. Earlier studies have linked sleep apnea with an increased number of tau proteins in the brain, a condition that can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Now, researchers have identified a clear connection between treatment of OSA and reduced risk of dementia…
The connection between OSA therapy and cognition
A recent study found older adults with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) who received positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy were less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia.
Researchers from Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Centers examined claims from more than 50,000 Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older diagnosed with OSA. About 78 percent of those diagnosed with OSA were prescribed PAP therapy, and 74 percent of those appeared to be adhering to PAP use.
The researchers found a significant association between PAP use and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment and dementia from unspecified causes.
These results emphasize the effect of sleep on cognitive function and suggest diagnosis and effective treatment of OSA may play a key role in the cognitive health of older adults.
PAP is by far the most widely prescribed treatment for OSA, but it’s not the only one…
Best ways to manage your OSA
The most common way to treat OSA is through use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. CPAP machines help you breathe through the night by blowing compressed air into your airway to keep it open.
Many people don’t like CPAP machines because they tend to be noisy and uncomfortable. However, there are way to address these issues. For instance, you can try canceling out the noise with a white noise machine or smartphone app.
To avoid any difficulties with your CPAP mask, make sure to get it fitted by a trained sleep technologist or respiratory therapist before you use it. If your face mask starts to leak after wearing it for a while, pull it away from your face and reposition it so that the seal re-engages. To handle nose mask leaks, try adjusting the straps so that they have equal tension.
Often the dry, cold air from the CPAP machine irritates your eyes and sinuses. To combat this, you can add a heated humidifier to your room. Just make sure that you don’t set the humidifier too high, or it can cause excessive condensation to build up in your mask or tube.
If your OSA case is mild enough, you may be able to avoid using a CPAP machine completely. If you’re overweight, weight loss can really help relieve OSA, and possibly even eliminate it completely. A dental device like a mouth guard can also address sleep apnea by keeping your jaw forward so that your airway stays open.
You can try sleeping on your side or stomach instead of your back, a position during which OSA is most likely to occur. If you’re having trouble staying off your back, there is a special device you can wear around your waist or back to keep you from turning on to your back during sleep.
Also, during allergy season, you might want to use a nasal decongestant or antihistamine to keep your nasal passages clear for easier breathing both during the day and at night.
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Treating Sleep Apnea May Reduce Dementia Risk — Michigan Medicine
Tips for Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) Therapy — Stanford Health Care
Why A CPAP Machine Could Save Your Brain — Easy Health Options
5 Ways To Avoid The Dreaded CPAP Machine — Easy Health Options