Treatment of sleep-disordered breathing may prevent dementia


Treating a sleep disorder to improve oxygen flow through the body may also help lower the risk of dementia in older-age people, according to a new study.

The research, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., must be replicated. But it’s exciting nonetheless because it suggests a rare, successful measure that may prevent at least some cases of cognitive impairment.

Sleep disorders such as frequent waking and hypoxia (a lack of oxygen) have been linked to other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Some researchers have also suspected that these disorders contribute to the development of dementia. Researchers led by Dr. Kristine Yaffe at UC San Francisco compared 105 women ages 65 and older with sleep-disordered breathing to 193 similar women who did not have the condition. Five years later, the women with sleep-disordered breathing had an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment.


In particular, hypoxia seemed to be the factor that led to the increased risk.

Studies in people with Alzheimer’s disease have shown that treatment for hypoxia in sleep with a CPAP machine (continuous positive air pressure) can slow or improve cognitive impairment. It may be time to test this treatment for Alzheimer’s prevention, said the authors of a commentary accompanying the study.

“No medications are known to prevent the progression of mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, so treating at-risk patients with CPAP for sleep-disordered breathing is a prevention strategy that may be worth testing,” wrote Nicola Canessa and Dr. Luigi Ferini-Strambi of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy.

On Monday, the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research issued a report showing the CPAP has more evidence of effectiveness compared to all other treatments for obstructive sleep apnea. Weight loss and surgery may also be effective for the condition, but the evidence is not as strong as for use of a CPAP.

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