Sleep-Disordered Breathing May Lower Ability to Think and Remember Among Older People, Especially Those With specific form of a Gene
As many as 60% of older adults have "sleep-disordered breathing" (SDB). The most common form of SDB is sleep apnea. People with these treatable sleep problems don’t breathe normally while sleeping. As a result, they wake up briefly, but often, during sleep. They often get poor quality sleep and feel sleepy during the day. Without treatment, they also run a higher risk of certain health problems.
Like SDB, cognitive impairment–difficulty thinking and remembering–is common among older adults. More than half of all Americans 85 or older, for example, have dementia, a form of cognitive impairment characterized by severe memory loss plus at least one other type of cognitive problem. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older Americans.
People with one variation of a gene known as "Apolipoprotein E" in this case, "E4" (APOE E4) run a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than others. One recent study found that older adults with both SDB and the APOE E4 gene perform less well (or score lower) on tests of memory and thinking skills.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
To get a better sense of whether SDB may lead to cognitive problems, particularly in older people with the APOE E4 gene, researchers recently studied nearly 450 older women. All of the women lived in the community, rather than in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Their average age was 82.
The women were tested for SDB and for the APOE E4 gene, and took tests measuring their memory and thinking skills.
Women who had SDB were more likely to have lower scores on tests of memory and thinking skills than those who didn’t have SDB, the researcher found. Women with both SDB and the APOE E4 gene were the most likely to have memory and thinking problems.
Because SDB is treatable, these findings highlight how important it is for people who have these sleeping problems to get diagnosed and treated, the researchers note.
The summary above is from the full report titled, "Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Cognition in Community-Dwelling Older Women." It is in the January 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 56, Issue 1). The report is authored by Adam P. Spira, PhD, Terri Blackwell, MA, Katie L. Stone, PhD, Susan Redline, MD, Jane A. Cauley, DrPH, Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, and Kristine Yaffe, MD.