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Sleep Apnea and Alzheimer’s Disease

Sleep apnea can cause many problems, both while we’re awake and while we sleep. The condition, which is categorized by stopping and then restarting breathing repeatedly throughout the night. Sleep apnea affects more than 936 million people around the globe, and it affects up to 30 percent of elderly people. Sleep apnea can be responsible for everything from depression to heart problems. Researchers have also known there is a link between sleep apnea and the progressive disease, Alzheimer’s disease, however the extent of that link is still largely unknown.

Now, a new study is taking a closer look at the Alzheimer’s and sleep apnea connection. The study, authored by RMIT and published in the journal Sleep found that patients with sleep apnea are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those without sleep apnea, and those with Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to have sleep apnea than those without Alzheimer’s Disease.

Researchers believe it all begins with something called amyloid plaques. Amyloid plaques are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, and are considered toxic to brain cells. In the study, researchers discovered that these amyloid plaques originate from the same place in the brain in both Alzheimer’s and sleep apnea patients.

The amyloid plaques were also found to spread to other areas of the brain in the same way in both patients with Alzheimer’s disease and those with sleep apnea.

Another interesting bit of information researchers uncovered in the study was that the severity of the patient’s sleep apnea did in fact relate to the severity of their Alzheimer’s disease. The more severe the sleep apnea, the more amyloid plaques were present in the brain samples used in the study. This could translate to more severe dementia during the patient’s lifetime.

The next step for the study is to expand to more samples, to hopefully uncover signs like inflammation or other blood vessel changes, as the blood vessels supply nutrients to the brain and could play a role in the formation of Alzheimer’s disease.

While the researchers saw no difference in the amount of amyloid plaques in those treated with CPAP and those without, however no other devices were mentioned in the study. While it is unclear whether treatment of sleep apnea affects amyloid plaques, we do know that it does positively affect many other conditions of the body, and should still be used when sleep apnea is present.

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