Treating common sleep disorder may help protect against dementia

A common sleep disorder called sleep apnea may pave the way for dementia and Alzheimer's disease later in life. Getting proper treatment for the condition, however, may help protect against the development of these tragic diseases, according to a new study from the Univerity of Michigan's Michigan Medicine. That's based on data from more than 50,000 people.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which someone repeatedly stops breathing during the night due to the muscles in the throat relaxing and closing off the airway. Depending on the severity of the condition, someone may stop breathing hundreds of times a night, resulting in exhaustion the next day.

Feeling tired is only one potential consequence of sleep apnea, however, and more serious problems can result, including heart troubles. Various treatments for the condition are presented, including wearing a mouthpiece and losing weight. In some cases, however, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is prescribed.

This machine works by creating positive airway pressure, which keeps the patient's throat muscles from preventing breathing and helps the user get a proper night of sleep. The new study has linked the use of CPAP therapy in cases of sleep apnea with reduced odds of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

That's based on an analysis of data from more than 50,000 adults ages 65 and older who received Medicare and suffered from obstructive sleep apnea. The study's lead author Galit Levi Dunietz, Ph.D., explained:

We found a significant association between positive airway pressure use and lower risk of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia over three years, suggesting that positive airway pressure may be protective against dementia risk in people with OSA.