Treating sleep apnea may reduce the risk of dementia, study finds

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There could be long-term cognitive benefits to treating sleep apnea

A new study conducted by researchers from Michigan Medicine explored how a popular sleep apnea treatment can be used to help lower the risk of dementia.  According to their findings, utilizing positive airway pressure in older adults to treat sleep apnea can be effective in reducing the risk of dementia long term. 

“We found a significant association between positive airway pressure use and lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia over three years, suggesting that positive airway pressure may be protective against dementia risk in people with [obstructive sleep apnea],” said researcher Galit Levi Dunietz, Ph.D. 

Positive impacts to cognitive health

For the study, the researchers analyzed more than 53,000 Medicare claims from patients who had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The team tracked the study participants’ cognitive health over the course of three years and compared how positive airway pressure impacted these outcomes. 

Nearly 80% of the participants reported using positive airway pressure to treat sleep apnea. When they consistently utilized these treatments, they were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairments (MCI) and dementia than those who weren’t utilizing positive airway pressure. 

While there are countless risk factors associated with dementia, especially as consumers age, these results highlight just how important sleep is for long-term cognitive health. The researchers hope these findings can be instrumental in helping older consumers reduce their risk of developing dementia. 

“If a causal pathway exists between OSA treatment and dementia risk, as our findings suggest, diagnosis and effective treatment of OSA could play a key role in the cognitive health of older adults,” said researcher Dr. Tiffany J. Braley. 

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