Is There a Link Between Sleep Apnea and Dementia?

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Elderly Women suffering from Dementia

Patients living with untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can experience a number of symptoms ranging from excessive daytime fatigue to cognitive impairment. Due to the prevalence of OSA in older individuals, researchers set out to determine if there was a link between sleep apnea and the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Do Dementia Patients Have Trouble Sleeping?

Sleep disorders such as insomnia and obstructed sleep apnea affect dementia patients. Both disorders reduce healthy sleep which impacts brain health. If insomnia is not linked to other disorders such as depression, it may be a part of an individual’s dementia. Sleep loss among dementia patients is also often due to shorter periods of healthy sleep. Reduced sleep time can increase proteins linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Patients who regularly experience OSA may also be losing sleep and causing irreparable damage to the brain, worsening dementia symptoms. Consistent patterns of OSA lead to difficulty focusing and making decisions. Your motor skills become slower. All of these symptoms impact the effects of dementia.

Can Poor Sleep Lead to Dementia?

Dementia may not only cause poor sleep but may be the direct result of unhealthy sleep behaviors at an earlier age. Early onset dementia can be associated with chronic sleep loss due to insomnia. Sleep loss affects even healthy brains and can begin degrading brain function long before a dementia diagnosis.

As the brain tries to adapt to erratic or limited patterns of sleep, chemicals in the brain are released. These chemicals over time change the brain drastically. Many of the symptoms associated with sleep loss such as poor concentration and memory are the same tell-tale signs that dementia is starting early.

How Does Sleep Apnea Contribute to Dementia?

Sleep apnea is from the complete or partial closing of the airway during sleep. This blockage prevents oxygen from entering the body and flowing to the brain. These events can happen as frequently as 30 times or more per hour in severe cases.

Some of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea include cognitive impairment (i.e. forgetfulness, lack of concentration, etc). These same symptoms are often related to the clinical onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in elderly patients. A review published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease examined several studies to determine if OSA and cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s were linked.

One study reviewed examined sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) among elderly women and found that 44.8% of study participants with SDB developed cognitive impairment or dementia. Only 31.1% of women without SDB developed dementia.1

Can Dementia Lead to An Onset of Sleep Apnea?

Dementia affects sleep because it alters the circadian rhythms that are essential for coordinating sleeping and waking behaviors. The shift in these sleep cycles due to a decline in cognitive abilities and brain function in dementia patients leads to erratic sleep patterns including insomnia. Some dementia patients may also develop sleep apnea as a result. Obstructive sleep apnea is particularly common with Alzheimer’s disease, occurring in 40% of patients. Having OSA also increases one’s risk of developing dementia. The onset of sleep apnea can only further worsen dementia symptoms and become a vicious cycle of lost sleep and declining brain function.

Will Treating Sleep Apnea Prevent Dementia?

There is not a lot of evidence surrounding the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea as a way to treat dementia or Alzheimer’s. Currently, the most effective form of treatment against sleep apnea is CPAP therapy. A study published in Neurology found that patients with untreated sleep apnea experienced onset of dementia approximately 10 years earlier than those without SDB.

Patients using CPAP therapy experienced the onset of dementia and cognitive impairment 10 years later than those who were not treated for their sleep apnea. While promising, these results only occurred in two out of three study groups. 

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea’s symptoms could be:

  • Frequent or chronic migraines
  • Loud snoring
  • Observed pauses in breathing throughout the night
  • Excessive daytime fatigue
  • Waking up gasping for air
  • Lack of concentration/memory loss

How to Treat Sleep Apnea

Before treating your sleep apnea, a proper diagnosis is necessary. Diagnosis often means an overnight sleep test in a sleep lab. However, Sleep Care Online offers non-invasive, convenient home sleep tests with the Complete Care Package. Now only $219, the Complete Care Package includes:

  1. With the Complete Care Package, schedule a 10-minute telehealth visit with a healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms, upcoming sleep study, test results, and treatment options.
  2. A multi-night, disposable home sleep apnea test is mailed to your home to be completed at your convenience.
  3. A physician analyzes the sleep data and provides a prescription if needed.
  4. Schedule an optional follow-up appointment (additional fee applies).
  5. We connect you to sleep experts who can offer customized sleep therapy options, assistance in equipment purchase, and initial set-up.

Order a Home Sleep Test Today!

If you have any additional questions about Sleep Care Online or the Complete Care Package, reach out to our customer care team. We can be reached at 866-465-4478 or via email at


  1. Yaffe K, Laffan AM, Harrison SL, et al. Journal of the American Medical Association. Sleep-disordered breathing, hypoxia, and risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in older women. Published 2011 Aug 10. Accessed July 2020.
  2. Osorio RS, Gumb T, Pirraglia E, et al. NeurologySleep-disordered breathing advances cognitive decline in the elderly. 2015 May 12. Accessed July 2020.

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