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Sleep Apnea Poses Possible Risk to Memory and Thinking, Study Indicates

Sleep Apnea Poses Possible Risk to Memory and Thinking, Study Indicates
Sleep Apnea Poses Possible Risk to Memory and Thinking, Study Indicates

A recent study suggests that individuals with sleep apnea may face an increased risk of experiencing memory and thinking problems. Although the study identified a positive correlation between sleep apnea and cognitive issues, it did not establish a definitive causal relationship between sleep apnea and cognitive decline. Scheduled for presentation at the American Academy of Neurology’s 76th Annual Meeting from April 13-18, 2024, both in Denver and online, this preliminary study sheds light on potential associations.

Sleep apnea, characterized by pauses or shallow breaths during sleep, disrupts the sleep cycle and diminishes oxygen flow to vital organs. The disorder presents symptoms such as loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, and daytime fatigue. The two primary types are obstructive sleep apnea, caused by relaxed throat muscles, and central sleep apnea, where the brain fails to signal breathing muscles. Risk factors include obesity, older age, and a family history of the condition.

Dr. Dominique Low, the study author from Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts, and an American Academy of Neurology member, emphasized the underdiagnosis of sleep apnea despite its commonality. The study, encompassing 4,257 participants, employed a questionnaire addressing sleep quality, memory, and thinking problems. Participants reported on sleep apnea symptoms like snorting, gasping, or breathing pauses. Memory and thinking-related inquiries covered difficulties in remembering, periods of confusion, concentration challenges, and decision-making problems.

Among the participants, 1,079 reported sleep apnea symptoms, with 33% experiencing memory or thinking issues, compared to 20% without sleep apnea symptoms. Adjusting for factors like age, race, gender, and education, researchers found that those reporting sleep apnea symptoms were 50% more likely to report memory or thinking problems. Dr. Low emphasized the significance of early sleep apnea screening, noting available treatments like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines. Improving sleep quality, adopting a healthy diet, regular exercise, social engagement, and cognitive stimulation could potentially reduce the risk of cognitive problems.

Despite these insights, the study has limitations, including data sourced from one survey and participants self-reporting symptoms instead of professional assessments. Further studies tracking sleep apnea, memory, and thinking symptoms over time are deemed necessary for a comprehensive understanding.

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