Can oxygen deficiency shrink regions of the brain?
So-called sleep apnea is a common disease that negatively affects breathing during sleep. Researchers have now found that the lack of oxygen caused by sleep apnea leads to the shrinking of certain regions in the brain that are also affected by dementia.
The University of Sydney scientists found in their current study that sleep apnea could promote dementia. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "European Respiratory Journal".
Connection between sleep apnea and shrunken brain regions found
Sleep apnea is a common condition in which a person is more likely to have pauses in breathing patterns or to breathe shallowly during sleep. The experts were able to observe in their research work that a lack of oxygen due to sleep apnea is related to the shrinking of regions in the brain, which also play an important role in remembering and learning new information. The examined subjects with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) had a reduced thickness in their temporal lobes. They also performed worse on memory tests.
Should sleep clinics do memory tests?
Screening could detect obstructive sleep apnea, which could help prevent memory deterioration by offering people with special treatment to support the airways during sleep, the doctors explain. The results suggest that obstructive sleep apnea should be looked for, especially in older people, explains study author Prof. Sharon Naismith from the University of Sydney. Elderly patients should talk to experts in sleep clinics about problems with their memory and thinking skills. If necessary, tests should also be carried out.
83 subjects were examined for the study
Sleep apnea often occurs at an advanced age. Often overweight people are also affected. Sleep apnea increases the likelihood of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep disorders. All of these factors are also associated with dementia, the experts say. For their study, the researchers examined a total of 83 people, aged 51 to 88, for whom their doctor had previously observed memory problems, which can be an early sign of dementia. None of these participants had previously been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.
Reduced temporal lobes caused poorer information storage
The test subjects were each given memory tests and MRI examinations to assess their brain thickness. In addition, the subjects visited a sleep clinic where their blood oxygen level was measured overnight. It was found that people with lower blood oxygen levels had shrunk right and left temporal lobes. These people were less able to store new information.
Does the lack of oxygen trigger inflammation in the brain?
The researchers also found increased thickness in other regions of the brain, which could be a sign of inflammation and swelling caused by lack of oxygen. The research team is now investigating whether people in this risk group can benefit from treatment with a ventilator and mask.
Lifestyle factors have a significant impact on the risk of dementia
There is no cure for dementia, early intervention is key, says Professor Naismith. Respirator and mask treatment is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, diagnosing and treating obstructive sleep apnea may be a way to prevent cognitive decline before it is too late. Up to 50 percent of a person's risk of dementia is thought to be caused by avoidable lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. The influence of sleep disorders is being investigated more and more. (as)