A new study has demonstrated that older adults who experience obstructive sleep apnea may be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This is because they exhibit higher levels of amyloid beta, the chief component of the amyloid plaques that characterize the disease.

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by the occasional inability to breathe while asleep, due to a collapse of the airway. This may cause the sleeper to wake up repeatedly during the night whenever breathing becomes difficult, resulting in disturbed sleep patterns.

Recent data suggest that in the United States, the prevalence of this disorder is around 34 percent for men and 17 percent for women, which makes it a fairly common health issue. However, specialists say that in up to 80 percent of cases, the condition remains undiagnosed.

Tied with a large number of negative health outcomes — including heightened risk of heart attackand type 2 diabetes — obstructive sleep apnea may also be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in the older population, new research suggests.

The new study, which was published yesterday in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, shows that older people affected by obstructive sleep apnea have higher levels of amyloid beta, the peptides involved in the brain plaque buildup that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Several studies have suggested that sleep disturbances might contribute to amyloid deposits and accelerate cognitive decline in those at risk for [Alzheimer’s disease],” explains senior author Dr. Ricardo S. Osorio, from the New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

“However,” he continues, “so far it has been challenging to verify causality for these associations because [obstructive sleep apnea] and [Alzheimer’s disease] share risk factors and commonly coexist.”

Severity of sleep apnea and amyloid levels

For the study, the researchers recruited 208 participants aged between 55 and 90, none of whom had any current cognitive impairments or depression. Also, none of them used continuous positive airway pressure, which is a common treatment for sleep apnea.

In their tests, Dr. Osorio and his research team performed a medical procedure known as a “lumbar puncture” to collect cerebrospinal fluid — or the fluid contained by the brain and spinal cord — as well as positron emission tomography (PET), in view of measuring each participant’s levels of amyloid beta.

The team found that over 50 percent of the study participants had obstructive sleep apnea. Of these, 36.5 percent had a mild form of the disorder, and 16.8 percent had a severe form.

Severity of sleep apnea and amyloid levels

For the study, the researchers recruited 208 participants aged between 55 and 90, none of whom had any current cognitive impairments or depression. Also, none of them used continuous positive airway pressure, which is a common treatment for sleep apnea.

In their tests, Dr. Osorio and his research team performed a medical procedure known as a “lumbar puncture” to collect cerebrospinal fluid — or the fluid contained by the brain and spinal cord — as well as positron emission tomography (PET), in view of measuring each participant’s levels of amyloid beta.

The team found that over 50 percent of the study participants had obstructive sleep apnea. Of these, 36.5 percent had a mild form of the disorder, and 16.8 percent had a severe form.

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Source: Medical News Today