Treating Sleep Apnea Can Improve Memory in People With Cognitive Decline

Good News Notes:

I and University of Sydney colleagues have published a new study showing treating sleep apnea in older adults with mild cognitive impairment can improve memory, but not other areas of cognition, in the short term.

As there is no current treatment or cure for dementia, increasing efforts have focused on developing novel approaches to slow its progression. Mild cognitive impairment is the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia.

In mild cognitive impairment, the individual, family, and friends notice cognitive changes, but the individual can still successfully carry out everyday activities. Mild cognitive impairment is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia in subsequent years.

Researchers believe this is the optimal time to intervene to help prevent a future dementia diagnosis. Finding new ways to slow cognitive decline in those with mild cognitive impairment is therefore important.

How is sleep important for our brain health?

Sleep optimizes the ability of our brains to stabilize and consolidate newly learned information and memories. These processes can occur across all the different stages of sleep, with deep sleep (also known as stage 3 or restorative sleep) playing a key role.

We also now know the glymphatic system, or the waste management system of the brain, is highly active during sleep, especially during deep sleep. This process allows waste products, including toxins, our brain has built up during the day to be cleaned out.

Toxins in the brain include beta-amyloid, one of the key proteins in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Disturbing sleep could disrupt this cleaning process and lead to more accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain.

The important role of sleep in these vital processes has led to the investigation of whether sleep disruption, including sleep disorders, could be associated with changes in our cognition when we age, and a possible link to the development of dementia.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnoea is estimated to affect 1 billion people worldwide. In Australia, 5-10% of adults are diagnosed with the condition. Sleep apnea causes the throat (also called the upper airway) to close either completely (an apnoea) or partially (a hypopnoea) during sleep.

These closures or obstructions can range from ten seconds up to one minute and can lead to a drop in blood oxygen levels. To start breathing again, a short awakening occurs without the individual being aware….”

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