A disorder called obstructive sleep apnea that occurs when breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep is common in people with thinking and memory problems, says a new study. The risk of cognitive impairment increases as people age. “Better sleep is beneficial to the brain and can improve cognitive skills. Yet in our study, we found that over half of the people with cognitive impairment had obstructive sleep apnea," said study author Mark Boulos of the University of Toronto in Canada.
“We also found that those with the sleep disorder had lower scores on thinking and memory tests. Fully understanding how obstructive sleep apnea affects this population is important because with treatment, there is potential to improve thinking and memory skills as well as overall quality of life."
The study involved 67 people with an average age of 73 who had cognitive impairment. Participants completed questionnaires on sleep, cognition and mood. They also took a 30-point cognitive assessment to determine their level of cognitive impairment. Researchers found that 52 per cent of study participants had obstructive sleep apnea.
People with the sleep disorder were 60 per cent more likely to score lower on the cognitive test than people who did not have sleep apnea, according to the study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting scheduled to be held virtually from April 17 to 22.
In addition, researchers found that the severity of obstructive sleep apnea corresponded with the degree of cognitive impairment as well as the quality of sleep for participants, including sleep time, how quickly they fell asleep, the efficiency of their sleep and how often they awoke at night.
“People with cognitive impairment should be assessed for obstructive sleep apnea because it can be treated by using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that helps keep the airway open at night," said Boulos. “However, not everyone who tries CPAP chooses to regularly use the therapy, and this may be a bigger challenge to people with thinking and memory problems.
“Future research should be directed toward determining ways to diagnose and manage the disease that are efficient and easy to use in people with cognitive impairment," Boulos said.