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The Link Between Alzheimer’s and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Published on August 22, 2022

6 minutes

Sleep health is important for your overall well being, and good sleep habits may help prevent serious chronic illnesses. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder that has been recently linked to the increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease by as much as double. If you are unaware of what sleep apnea is, and the added risks associated with OSA, affecting more than just a good night’s sleep, we can help.

Sleep apnea has been traced to the root of several chronic illnesses, including heart failure, diabetes, arrhythmias, hypertension, depression, stroke, and obesity. Studies have confirmed that if you are suffering from cognitive decline in the form of Alzheimer’s, it could be that you are affected by undiagnosed and untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Do you experience constant sleep disruption, wake up gasping for breath, wake up choking or snorting? You may have OSA. What does that mean? Well, during sleep your throat muscles may relax, causing an obstruction, or blockage in your airways. This blockage can cause your blood oxygen levels to drop, which triggers your brain to wake you up suddenly. THe increased effort of breathing against a blocked airway results in excessive strain on the heart in addition to the drop in blood oxygen levels. 

The pattern can happen several times within a single hour, and for several seconds each time. Our bodies don’t get consistent and proper rest because of these constant interruptions. This strain can eventually lead to chronic illness and affect our memory or cognition, which increases the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s.

Signs of Sleep Apnea

If you are overweight, male or in your senior years, your chances of having sleep apnea are higher than average. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common of the three kinds of sleep apnea; obstructive, central and mixed sleep apnea

Several tell-tale signs that you are suffering from sleep apnea include noisy snoring, gasping for air while sleeping, feeling very sleepy during the day, and having trouble concentrating among others. Symptoms that your spouse will notice may include daytime irritability, snoring and that you occasionally stop breathing while you sleep.

Cognitive Decline and Sleep Apnea

If you don’t have Alzheimer’s, you may still be at risk for cognitive decline if you have untreated sleep apnea. You could also start to experience symptoms of depression, visual and verbal memory loss, and reduced attention span. All these symptoms could become serious challenges to your personal and professional life.

Recent studies show that if you have OSA but are not treating it with CPAP therapy you are doubling your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, especially if you are over 50 years of age. Studies also indicate that people with Alzheimer’s are more likely to have sleep apnea.

I’m Always Feeling Tired. Should I Get Tested for OSA?

Suppose you are experiencing persistent drowsiness during the day and having difficulty focusing, it may be a lack of sleep due to OSA, which can impact memory retention and increase the risk of cognitive decline. Take a sleep quiz to know your risk for OSA.

Will Sleeping Better Help Reduce the Severity of Alzheimer’s?

While treatment for obstructive sleep apnea won’t cure Alzheimer’s or reverse it, there is strong evidence that shows a potential reduction or slowing down of symptoms if diagnosed and treated with a CPAP device.

These findings are encouraging for those of us who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer's society of Canada has supportive resources available. The clinical team at VitalAire can help answer your questions regarding sleep apnea therapy options.

How Do I Get Tested?

If you think you have OSA, visit your family doctor first and describe your symptoms. They should order a sleep study test that can be done at home or at a local sleep lab, depending on the province you are located in. The test is straightforward and painless. 

How does it work? First, you’ll be scheduled for an appointment at a sleep lab or at home, depending on where you are based in Canada. During the sleep study, your sleep will be monitored and assessed by a VitalAire clinical sleep consultant. They will be able to see how many times your sleeping pattern is disturbed and what your body is doing during those disturbances. The sleep test records brain waves, heart rate, body oxygen levels, breathing, and eye and leg movements.

Treating Sleep Apnea with a CPAP Device

Treating sleep apnea can prevent or delay many more severe illnesses, including conditions like depression and Alzheimer’s. The most effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is CPAP therapy, which has been proven to be over ninety percent successful in the treatment of sleep apnea.

What does a CPAP unit do, exactly? A CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure device, uses a whisper-quiet motor that sends very mild air pressure through a face mask that you wear while sleeping, which keeps your upper airway open.

When sleep apnea is treated using a CPAP therapy device, the blood-oxygen levels don’t drop during sleep. Your blood pressure stays down, reducing your risk of heart disease and other sleep apnea-related illnesses. Best of all, there is no more disruptive snoring to keep your partner awake!

Importance of Treatment with CPAP Therapy

When you treat sleep apnea with CPAP therapy, you’ll be like thousands of others who have said that the CPAP has positively impacted their overall energy levels and outlook towards life. The therapy isn’t new and VitalAire has been actively treating those with OSA for over forty-five years. 

Your VitalAire clinician will ensure you get your best night’s sleep and will support your therapy by offering  the latest CPAP equipment and accessories, designed to keep you comfortable while sleeping. Your clinician will fit your CPAP mask to avoid air leakage that affects the quality of your therapy. 

It is strongly recommended that you use your CPAP therapy unit regularly throughout the entire night, especially during the second-half when REM sleep is happening to achieve the maximum benefit. You can also keep track of your therapy through personalized sleep tracking through apps linked to the CPAP device, which will improve your therapy success. 

If you feel you may have obstructive sleep apnea, take this Sleep Quiz and speak with your doctor about testing and treatment. Contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding obstructive sleep apnea, diagnosis, treatment and long-term support. We’re here to support you on your care journey.