It is common knowledge that oxygen is vital for the brain to function. But scientists are now learning just how vital proper and abundant oxygen flow is to our long-term health.
Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, participated in a study that analyzes the relationship between sleep apnea
and dementia in elderly women. The study found that women with sleep apnea were nearly twice
as likely to develop dementia as “normally sleeping” women within a five-year period. According to Dr. Yaffe, these findings suggest that there is a “biological connection between sleep and cognition” and the “treatment of sleep apnea might help prevent or delay the onset of dementia in older adults.”
Sleep apnea, or sleep-disordered breathing, is a condition where an individual has one or more pauses in breathing or abnormally shallow breathing while sleeping. Although the individual is most likely not aware of their breathing difficulties, he or she can be awakened from the lack of oxygen and also feel the negative effects of disturbed sleep
the next day. In addition, sleep apnea can also bring unwanted side effects of high blood pressure, stroke, heart problems, diabetes, depression, and worsening of ADHD. Now it appears that oxygen deprivation can also negatively impact cognitive development.The connection between oxygen and dementia.
This particular study looked at 298 women over age 65. Researchers found that 44.8% of women with sleep apnea developed dementia, compared to 31.1% of women without sleep apnea. All of the women were tested to verify that no signs of dementia were present at the start of the study. According to researchers, about one-third of all participants developed dementia or some other form of mild cognitive impairment.
The researchers suggest that the decline in cognition resulted from the lack of oxygen flow, called hypoxia, caused by sleep apnea. Consequently, women whose sleep was often spent in a low oxygen state were more likely to develop cognition impairments. The study did clarify that there was no connection between the number of times a person awoke due to difficulty breathing and increased risk of dementia. They also referenced previous studies that had found a connection between sleep apnea and dementia, as well as research that suggests providing oxygen to Alzheimer’s patients slows the decline in cognitive ability.How to treat sleep apnea.
Fortunately, mild cases of sleep apnea have a number of conservative treatment options. Behavioral modifications such as losing weight; abstaining from things like alcohol, sleeping pills, and smoking; and changing sleep positions can help. Others might benefit from wearing an oxygen mask, a treatment known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). A dental device can also be used to keep the airways open for proper oxygen flow. Finally, for more severe cases, there are common surgical procedures as an option.
As a result of these findings, the researchers suggest using oxygen as a possible treatment for the elderly with sleep apnea as a way to decrease the chances of developing dementia
and other cognitive impairments. Dr. Yaffe says, "While we cannot conclude from these results that [sleep apnea] causes cognitive impairment, our study suggests that it may at least be a contributing factor.”