SCREENING for obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in older people could help prevent dementia, according to new research published by the European Respiratory Society (ERS). The study suggests that OSA can cause changes to the structure of the brain associated with a decline in memory that’s observed during the early stages of dementia.
Previous studies have indicated that sleep disturbances are risk factors for dementia. In this research, the team wanted to better understand the specific effects of OSA on the brain and cognitive abilities.
They assessed memory skills and symptoms of depression in 83 people aged between 51 and 88 years, none of who had been diagnosed with OSA but had visited their doctor regarding their mood or memory. The dimensions of various areas of their brains were also measured via an MRI scan. Using polysomnography, the participants were additionally monitored overnight for signs of OSA in a sleep clinic.
The researchers discovered that participants with low levels of oxygen in their blood whilst sleeping, a strong indicator of OSA, tended to have reduced thickness in the left and right temporal lobes of their brains. These regions are also affected in dementia and are recognised as playing an important role in memory. In the study, a direct link was found between reduced levels of thickness in these regions and a reduced capacity for learning new information.
Prevention of Dementia
With OSA treatable with a continuous positive airway device (CPAP), the team believe that early diagnosis of the condition could also help prevent dementia occurring.
“We chose to study this group because they are older and considered at risk of dementia. Our results suggest that we should be screening for OSA in older people. We should also be asking older patients attending sleep clinics about their memory and thinking skills, and carrying out tests where necessary,” commented Prof Sharon Naismith, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, who led the study. “There is no cure for dementia so early intervention is key. On the other hand, we do have an effective treatment for OSA. This research shows that diagnosing and treating OSA could be an opportunity to prevent cognitive decline before it’s too late.”
The team are now undertaking new research to see whether CPAP treatment can improve brain connectivity and prevent further cognitive decline in patients with mild cognitive impairment.
James Coker, Reporter
For the source and further information about the study, click here.