A common sleep disorder which experts say may affect up to half of all seniors has been linked to memory decline and dementia, according to a study just released by the American Medical Association. This newly discovered apparent linkage between sleep apnea and dementia is extremely important for seniors and their loved ones because it reinforces the idea that apnea, which for most people is treatable, should never be ignored.
We found this article on the Alzheimer’s Association website describing this new finding. Hopefully it will motivate you or someone you love to seek medical attention for any persistent sleep disorders.
The AMA study was conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They studied nearly 300 senior women (average age 82) for a five year period. All these women were apparently healthy and none had memory problems when the study period began. When they were monitored using special home equipment, about one-third were shown to have some degree of sleep apnea, a condition that occurs when soft tissue at the back of the throat relaxes too much during sleep, blocking the airway. People with sleep apnea can “wake up” hundreds of time during the night, although they don’t recall doing so, and can often experience grogginess and fuzzy thinking all during the day because of undetected sleep loss. Sleep apnea has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other memory problems. But, according to the Alzheimer’s Association article, “This is the first study to document sleep apnea using medical monitoring and to study its effects on the brain and cognition over time.”
So what happened to the women in the UC San Francisco study? “By the end of the study,” says the article, “more than a third of the women had developed serious memory problems.” The study also showed a strong linkage between apnea and dementia, with more than 44 percent of the women with sleep problems developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment. This was significantly higher than the 31 percent of those without sleep disorders who developed dementia or impaired cognition. Even after controlling for age, weight and other factors, “the association between breathing problems during sleep and dementia persisted.”
As the study authors put it, “Given the high prevalence of both sleep-disordered breathing and cognitive impairment among older adults, the possibility of an association between the two conditions, even a modest one, has the potential for a large public health impact.” Hopefully this study will trigger more research, including studies involving men (who are more prone to sleep apnea than women) and women of color, since all the women in the AMA study were white.
The most common treatment for sleep apnea involves wearing a CPAP machine over the mouth and nose. CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure,” and while CPAP machines can be cumbersome, they do seem to work for most people. Other treatments that can be explored include surgery, special devices that change the position of the jaw and tongue while sleeping, and lifestyle changes, especially weight loss. But whichever treatment is right for you, we strongly suggest you start your medical evaluation with a geriatric physician, or geriatrician, who will have a thorough professional understanding of the full range of your health needs as a senior. We invite you to call us during the week at AgingOptions and allow us to refer you to a geriatrician in your area. Then he or she can evaluate your situation and give you the kind of treatment protocol that’s right for you. But no matter what else you do, if you suspect that breathing problems during sleep might be contributing to concentration challenges during the day, you should definitely seek professional advice.
But what about seeking professional advice for your retirement planning? If you’re like many people approaching retirement, you’re probably confused and a little bewildered by all the conflicting advice and information coming your way. Wouldn’t it be great to find a source of objective advice and guidance you can trust? Here at AgingOptions, we want to be that source. We’re not trying to sell you a product or baffle you with biased advice! Instead our goal is to help our clients develop a comprehensive retirement blueprint, called a LifePlan, than combines all the vital elements a true retirement plan needs to have: your financial strategy, your legal protection, your housing options, your medical coverage, and communication with your family. With a LifePlan in place, you can face the future with confidence and security.
We invite you to explore the power of a LifePlan in a simple, no-obligation way: attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. These are held in locations throughout the Puget Sound area. For dates, times and locations, and online registration, click on this link, or call us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you. It will be our pleasure to meet you soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you.
(originally reported at https://www.alzinfo.org)