Sleep apnoea and dementia risk

We take a closer look at the research behind the headlines on sleep apnoea and the risk of dementia.

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is a condition where people either stop breathing for a time or their airway becomes temporarily blocked while they are asleep.

People with sleep apnoea experience excessive snoring and tiredness during their waking hours.

What is the research behind sleep apnoea and dementia risk?

The potential link between sleep apnoea and dementia risk has hit the headlines in recent months.

Researchers in Australia have been investigating whether sleep apnoea has a connection to some of the early signs that someone may have a higher risk of developing dementia – thinning of certain brain areas and poor memory test scores.

The researchers measured the amount of oxygen in a person’s blood while they slept. Low blood oxygen would show that they weren’t breathing properly and had sleep apnoea.

The results showed that people with low blood oxygen levels were more likely to have thinning in some areas of their brain than people who had high blood oxygen.

Looking closely at the facts

There are several important limitations to this study.

  • Firstly, the researchers only tested 83 people, which is too small a group to represent everyone affected.
  • Secondly, all those who took part had memory problems – normally a study would use a second group with no cognitive problems to compare against.
  • Thirdly, we can’t be sure that any of these people would go on to develop dementia, since their memory problems could have been caused by other conditions such as high blood pressure and depression.

This study does underline that sleep apnoea is a serious condition and, if left untreated, could significantly affect your quality of life, so it remains important to speak to your GP if you are concerned about sleep apnoea.

Sleep and its potential role in protecting the brain has become an important area of dementia research.

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Care and cure magazine: Autumn 18

Care and cure is the research magazine of Alzheimer's Society is for anyone interested in dementia research.
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Care and cure is the research magazine of Alzheimer's Society is for anyone interested in dementia research.
Subscribe now


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