Snoring and sleep apnea have long gone hand in hand, but new research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that sleep apnea sufferers and chronic snorers could also have a greater risk for developing dementia. Obstructive sleep apnea, a type of sleep disorder that causes normal breathing to stop and start throughout the night, is the most common sleep apnea condition and poses great risks to a patients health and life. With the newest findings from the Mayo Clinic, we can now believe that not only is OSA dangerous to patients in the short-term, but could even have links to long-term cognitive impairment or disease.
Drs. Mike and Jeremy Frith offer functional dentistry services for St. Louis patients, including treatments for sleep disorders and TMJ disorders. If you are living with obstructive sleep apnea, or are keeping your partner awake with loud, nightly snoring, it’s time you visited our practice to ensure you are sleeping safely. Snoring and sleep apnea symptoms are more than inconvenient or annoying – they can be dangerous to your health. Contact us today to schedule a consultation regarding sleep disorders.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common sleep apnea in the United States, and it’s estimated that more than 20 million Americans live with a sleep apnea disorder (though many cases are undiagnosed, which could considerably alter this estimate). Patients with OSA repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night, due to a blocked airway from relaxed throat muscles. This continuous starting and stopping of breath leads to restless nights which can take a significant toll on a patient’s physical and mental health, in addition to a risk of suffocation. One of the first signs of OSA is loud snoring. Other symptoms can include abrupt awakenings throughout the night, fatigue, morning head pain, dry mouth or sore throat, and high blood pressure. OSA is known for causing mental health problems, as well. Those with this condition often experience an inability to focus throughout the day, memory loss, and an increased likelihood for depression or irritability.
The Mayo Clinic’s recent findings indicate a link between dementia and OSA through the presence of the protein “tau.” Tau toxicity plays a pivotal role in the development of one of the most destructive forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease; tau is found in higher numbers within the entorhinal cortex of the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. The entorhinal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for both memory and perception of time.
During the Mayo Clinic’s study, patients who frequently snored or who suffered from OSA were closely monitored. After eliminating other variables such as age, sex, and cardiovascular health, researchers discovered that those patients with sleep apnea had nearly five times higher levels of “tau” within the entorhinal cortex than those patients who slept normally throughout the night.
Understanding the Findings
This research made it evident that a link exists between OSA, Alzheimer’s disease, and the presence of the protein tau in the brain. Proof of this connection might be found in the memory loss and concentration problems that plague many OSA sufferers, as the entorhinal cortex is where memories are created and stored within the brain.
However, scientists recognize that they are only beginning to scratch the surface on the connections between these conditions. Neurology fellow, Diego Carvalho, the lead author for the study, described the findings as a bit of a “chicken and egg problem.” Does OSA produce excessive tau protein accumulation in the brain, or does the greater tau protein presence in the brain lead to OSA patterns? Carvalho says that only more studies and time will begin to unravel these questions.
Help for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in St. Louis, MO
If you are currently suffering from the above symptoms of OSA, or believe you may have a sleep disorder that is negatively affecting your health, schedule a consultation with Drs. Mike or Jeremy Frith. Our practice treats bruxism, TMJ disorders, and sleep disorders, to help you receive a better, healthier night’s sleep. Call us at 636.394.5200.