Alzheimer's & Sleep

November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

We now know that Alzheimer’s and Dementia are directly linked with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

My question to you is…

Why are we not screaming this from the rooftops?

  • If you are a Healthcare Provider, what are you doing to reduce the risk to your patients? 
  • Are you testing all your patients to be sure they are not at risk for developing Alzheimer’s or Dementia? 
  • Have all your patients with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol been tested and treated for their Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

I can’t think of a more dreaded diagnosis for baby boomers. It wreaks havoc on families and seems to strike at random, affecting folks younger and younger.

The Alzheimer’s Association states that although there are risk factors for Alzheimer’s that we cannot control such as aging, ethnicity and genetics, there are others that we may be able to affect through lifestyle changes and effective management of ‘other health conditions.’

For example, “Growing evidence links brain health to heart health. Your brain is nourished by one of your body’s richest networks of blood vessels. Every heartbeat pumps about 20 to 25 percent of your blood to your head, where brain cells use at least 20 percent of the food and oxygen your blood carries.”

Would it not follow that anything that deprives the brain of oxygen, such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), would ultimately be a huge risk factor for Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

Their site goes on to say that “the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia appears to be increased by many conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol.” 

Hmmmm…are these not the very same consequences of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

So if the consequences of OSA are the very same risk factors as  for Alzheimer’s and Dementia, would we not expect to see every patient tested and treated for OSA as a way to PREVENT or REDUCE the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Dementia?? 

Several studies show that untreated OSA can lead to patients showing early signs of dementia even 20 years prior to diagnosis. In particular, studies undertaken by the University of California, San Diego (S. Ancoli-Israel) demonstrated through portable sleep testing that sleep is extremely disturbed in patients with dementia and that OSA is very common. They went on to prove that Alzheimer’s patients can tolerate Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) for the average number of hours worn per night and that CPAP use improved daytime sleepiness, night time sleep, and even some aspects of cognitive function!

They also found that when patients who continued to use CPAP after the end of the study were compared with those who discontinued CPAP, there was less cognitive deterioration, less depression, less daytime sleepiness, and better subjective sleep quality.

The conclusion of these studies was that OSA aggravates cognitive dysfunction in dementia and that long-term CPAP treatment may result in slowing the progression of and may even be a reversible risk factor of cognitive loss in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.

If you are a newly diagnosed patient, family member or caregiver, can you advocate for testing and treatment of OSA to reduce the risk, slow progression and even improve cognitive decline?

And why not protect yourself by arranging for your very own sleep test today? Persevere to find comfortable, effective treatment options for your sleep issues...CPAP, oral appliances, positional therapy, sleep hygiene….whatever it takes to ensure your healthy 7-9 hours of sleep a night. 

Invest in your future today!


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Comment below with your experience, managing sleep for yourself while caregiving and as well as sleep issues you have noted for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

Julia Worrall