Sleep apnoea is a bizarre condition when people stop breathing when sleeping or their breathing becomes really shallow. It can get so bad that people experience hypoxia, cannot get a good night sleep and sometimes have to get treatment. Now scientists from the University of Queensland found that low levels of oxygen caused by sleep apnoea can contribute to the development of the Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists estimate that people who experience hypoxia related to sleep apnoea, which occurs when the upper airways collapse during sleep, are three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. This debilitating condition is the most common type of dementia, which is a growing public health concern because of the ageing population. Researchers found that low levels of oxygen, caused by sleep apnoea, damage an area of the brain important for attention and learning. Sleep apnoea is relatively common (affects more than one million adults in Australia alone), which raises concerns about the pressure on health care system in the future.
Currently sleep apnoea is treated with a continuous positive airway pressure ventilator. These devices do improve night’s sleep and help people wake up rested, but scientists do not know whether they help avoiding the risk of cognitive decline. That is why scientists are gearing up for a new study, involving patients aged 55 to 75, to see whether continuous positive airway pressure ventilators decreases the risk of developing dementia related to the effects of hypoxia.
Knowing this information could lead to some innovative preventive methods. Knowing that continuous positive airway pressure ventilators do not work to prevent hypoxia-related dementia could push scientists to create something new to address sleep apnoea and its contribution to the development of the Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Pankaj Sah, one of the authors of the study, said: “Sleep disturbances can occur up to 10 years prior to Alzheimer's disease. Considering that Alzheimer’s affects roughly one-third of the elderly population, this important research may inform preventative public health measures in the future”.
Sleep apnoea is kind of a weird condition, because it is our body preventing itself to breath. However, many people live with sleep apnoea and we have to find ways to protect their health.
Source: University of Queensland