Sleep apnea is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, study finds

Those who suffer from sleep apnea are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a new study has found.

The study found those with sleep apnea had a build up of a toxic protein in their brain called beta-amyloid which triggers Alzheimer’s, the progressive brain disease known for slowly causing impairment in memory and cognitive function.

The protein formed due to the obstructed breathing from heavy snoring as a result of sleep apnea, researchers found.

But experts say there is a silver lining: the study showed treatments used to calm the snoring and increase oxygen flow may be able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Experts say the oxygen mask treatment used to combat sleep apnea may be able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease as research has shown a link between the two conditions

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder largely associated with heavy snoring in which breathing repeatedly stops. 

If left untreated, the oxygen deprivation from sleep apnea can result in a growing number of health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes and heart attacks.

Now researchers from New York University have found a link between the sleep disorder and Alzheimer’s while conducting a study of 208 mentally healthy people, ages 55 to 90.


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain. 

A build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.

Early symptoms include: loss of short-term memory, disorientation, behavioral changes and mood swings

Later symptoms include: severe memory loss, forgetting close family members or familiar objects, loss of the ability to walk and the inability to make sense of the world.

Researchers performed spinal taps to analyze the amount of amyloid in their cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), fluid that protects the spine and brain.

They then scanned the brain to measure deposits of the toxic protein directly in the brain in a number of the volunteers.

And though none of the participants were referred by a sleep center, were known to have sleep apnea or had a condition that might affect their brain function, more than half were found to have sleep apnea – 36.5 percent with a mild form and 16.8 percent whose condition was moderate to severe.

Exactly half the original group (104) were then followed for two years which found a link between sleep apnea severity and an increase in amyloid deposits in the brain.  

The toxic proteins clump together in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and were found to increase over time due to snoring severity, meaning those with more sleep disturbances per hour had greater accumulation of amyloid over time.

Senior study author Dr Ricardo Osorio said: ‘If this is the case, then the potential benefit of developing better screening tools to diagnose sleep apnea in the elderly who are often asymptomatic (to Alzheimer’s) is enormous.’ 

A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is an oxygen mask used to combat sleep apnea by keeping the airways open and forcing air in.

The next step in research is to determine if the use of a CPAP machine could keep the airways open enough to decrease the amount of amyloid proteins to the brain and decrease the likelihood of Alzheimer’s.

Sleep apnea affects 18 million people, or one in 15 Americans, according to the American Sleep Association.

One in 10 people ages 65 and older has Alzheimer’s, which is an incurable disease.

Earlier this year, another US team pooled data from 14 studies and showed people with sleep apnea were 26 percent more likely to develop dementia, a popular symptom of Alzheimer’s. 

The study is published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.