For patients that suffer from sleep apnea, their risk for developing Alzheimer’s later on in their life increases drastically. A new study has linked sleep apnea with an increase in the development of amyloid plaque in the brain, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that the more serious the sleep apnea was, the more plaque accumulated. And of those that suffer the most, it is typically the elderly. In fact, it is estimated that about 30 to 80 percent suffer from sleep apnea.  

What is the connection?

While none of the participants of this study developed Alzheimer’s over the two years, those with sleep apnea did accumulate amyloid plaque. This is a potential trigger for Alzheimer’s in the future.

The study suggests that treating sleep apnea would likely reduce the accumulation of amyloid plaque. In turn, it could also reduce or eliminate the risk of Alzheimer’s. This is because sleep is necessary for the brain to clear itself of the plaque. It is during sleep that the brain can do its housekeeping to clear some of the proteins that have accumulated during the day. A person with sleep apnea loses out on that restorative sleep that helps to protect the brain.

Treating sleep apnea is key to improving the health of our patients and it seems like the connection to other health conditions continues to grow.