Scientists have suspected that Alzheimer’s disease and sleep apnea might be related, but it wasn’t until recently that they were able to confirm those suspicions.
A team of Icelandic and Australian researchers, together with the RMIT University, recently published the recently concluded study results in a sleep journal. The new research indicated that the two diseases start in the same place in the brain, and they also spread similarly. Professor Stephen Robinson, the lead investigator in the study, noted that a person that develops sleep apnea is more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease when they grow older.
“The connection is there but untangling the causes and biological mechanisms remains a huge challenge,” stated Dr. Robinson.
Dr. Robinson also revealed that the research conducted by his team was the first scientific study do discover Alzheimer’s-like amyloid plaques within the brains of individuals that have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. The discovery is vital in developing effective treatments against the two diseases because it allows researchers to advance their knowledge of how the two diseases are linked. A better understanding of the conditions can thus be used to influence the develop treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
The connection between sleep apnea and brain damage
The researchers found that severe sleep apnea was caused by amyloid plaque buildup. They also observed that common sleep apnea treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) do not reduce the brain’s amount of plaque. Other recent studies evaluating post-mortem brain tissue revealed a plaque in the area surrounding the hippocampus, which is also the area where plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease was found.
The findings shed some more light on how a lack of proper sleep or disrupted sleep could also be a precursor to Alzheimer’s. Disrupted sleep, as in the case of Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), leads to more accumulation of plaque as the disrupted sleep makes it more difficult for the brain to clean itself. The accumulation of plaque over time leads to brain damage, thus causing the onset of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s.