The Study of Sleep Apnea and Its Connection to Brain Changes Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease

New Link Between Sleep Apnea and Reduced Brain Volume in Alzheimer’s Susceptible Regions

A recent study suggests that there may be a link between sleep apnea and reduced brain volume in Alzheimer’s susceptible regions. The study found that people with Alzheimer’s disease-linked amyloid plaques and severe sleep apnea were more likely to have smaller volumes in memory-associated regions of the brain, such as the hippocampus. The correlation was found to be absent in those without amyloid plaques, even if they suffered from severe sleep apnea.

Association between Severe Sleep Apnea and Reduced Brain Volume

The study found that an association existed between severe sleep apnea and reduced brain volume in regions related to Alzheimer’s disease and memory. However, this association occurred only in people with amyloid plaques, the early sign of Alzheimer’s, and not in people without these plaques.

The Research does not Conclusively Prove Causality

It is essential to note that the study does not prove that sleep apnea causes reduced brain volume. Instead, it merely suggests a link between the two. Over time, more research will be conducted to determine a causal relationship between the two factors.

More Vulnerability to Sleep Apnea in the Early Stages of Alzheimer’s

The study involved 122 people with an average age of 69 who did not have memory problems. 26 people had amyloid plaques in their brains. They took tests of their memory, had brain scans, and underwent an overnight sleep study from their homes. The memory tests were repeated after an average of 21 months.

In the group with amyloid plaques, having more severe sleep apneas was associated with having lower brain volume in the medial temporal lobe area of the brain. This connection was not found in people who did not have amyloid plaques. The results suggest that some people may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of sleep apnea, particularly those in the early stages of the Alzheimer’s continuum.

Potential Benefits of Treating Sleep-Disordered Breathing

The study indicates that further research should look at whether treating sleep-disordered breathing could potentially improve cognition and prevent or delay neurodegeneration. This finding offers a glimmer of hope in the quest for slowing down or preventing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Funding for the Research

The study was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program, Inserm, Region Normandy, and the MMA Corporate Foundation of Entrepreneurs of the Future.

About the Sleep Apnea Research

The research will be published in Neurology.


While the study does not conclusively link sleep apnea and reduced brain volume, it does suggest a potential connection between the two factors. People with Alzheimer’s disease-linked amyloid plaques may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of sleep apnea. More research is needed to determine causality and understand the relationship between sleep-disordered breathing and cognitive function. Nevertheless, the study offers a potential avenue for intervention and treatment in preventing or delaying neurodegeneration.

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