I have obstructive sleep apnea. Does that increase my risk for Alzheimer's disease?

Studies have shown that poor sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, are associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.

There is also research showing a link between people with excessive daytime sleepiness — a primary symptom of obstructive sleep apnea — and Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, people with excessive daytime sleepiness had higher levels of proteins called amyloid and tau. These proteins are also indicators of Alzheimer's disease.

Are there ways to decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer's?

It's important to note that just because you have obstructive sleep apnea doesn't mean you'll definitely develop Alzheimer's disease. The exact cause of Alzheimer's isn't known. Scientists think that for most people, it's caused by a combination of lifestyle, environmental factors and genetics.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea and are prescribed a therapy such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device or an oral appliance, you should wear it every time you sleep. By staying committed to your treatment plan, you can reduce the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and potentially reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life.

Should someone with Alzheimer's disease be tested for obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea frequently occurs in people with Alzheimer's disease. Talk with your doctor if you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and also experience the following symptoms:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, including difficulty concentrating or falling asleep while reading, watching television or driving
  • Waking up with a dry or sore throat
  • Morning headaches
  • Frequent mood changes, such as feeling angry or annoyed, even at slight inconveniences

Can CPAP therapy help someone with Alzheimer's disease?

There is some research that shows using a CPAP improves memory function and reduces daytime sleepiness in people who have both obstructive sleep apnea and Alzheimer's disease. While more research is needed, this could mean that people with Alzheimer's disease could also benefit from CPAP therapy.


Eric J. Olson, M.D.

Aug. 14, 2020 See more Expert Answers

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