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Researchers Confirm Link Between Alzheimer's and Sleep Apnea

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Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a medical condition that occurs when a person's breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep.

A recent research has confirmed the claims of a link between sleep apnea and Alzheimer's disease, finding identical signs of brain damage in both conditions.

The clinical study led by Australian and Icelandic researchers at RMIT University published in the journal Sleep says amyloid plaques that are toxic to brain cells are known indicators of Alzheimer's start in the same place and spread in the same way in the brains of people with obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a medical condition that occurs when a person's breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. More than 936 million people worldwide and up to 30% of elderly people have this condition. Whereas, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia which affects up to 70% of all people with dementia.

Lead investigator Professor Stephen Robinson said, “We know that if you have sleep apnea in mid-life, you’re more likely to develop Alzheimer’s when you’re older, and if you have Alzheimer’s you are more likely to have sleep apnea than other people your age.”

He says finding out the causes and biological mechanisms of the disease remains a huge challenge. Robinson calls the research an important advance in the understanding of the links between the conditions and opens up new directions for researchers working on developing effective therapies for treating and preventing Alzheimer's disease.

The research also pointed out the severity of sleep apnea which was linked to a corresponding build-up of amyloid plaques. The study also found that treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for moderate to severe sleep apnea made no difference to the amount of plaques found in the brain.

The study investigated the extent of Alzheimer’s-like indicators in autopsy tissue from the hippocampus of 34 people and the brainstems of 24 people with OSA. The hippocampus is the part of the brain which is associated with memory. The scientists looked for both amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, another known indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.


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