Could Sleep Apnea Speed Development of Dementia?

by / / Tips

Sleep apnea and dementia are both problems we’ve heard much about lately, but only recently the connection between the two of these frustrating afflictions has begun to be explored.

If you suffer from sleep apnea, does that mean you are at a higher risk of developing dementia? If so, what can cause this, and how possible is it that you, the average sleep apnea sufferer, might develop a problem?

older male patient

Poor sleep may contribute to dementia

One of the main points noticed by researchers of both sleep apnea and dementia was that both issues seemed to be more pronounced in the elderly, which lead scientists to wonder if there was a connection between the two.

After all, the effects of sleep on the body and mind aren’t completely understood, but there is an understanding that the lack of sleep, or poor sleep, could be hurting people in unexpected ways.


To see if there was a connection, 167 elderly Japanese men were studied and monitored for sleep apnea.

The goal was to see if the most noticeable metric of sleep apnea, namely the level of oxygen getting to the bloodstream and then the brain, would be limited to the point that people would develop dementia, or possibly show signs of it faster than those that didn’t have apnea.


Overall, it was discovered that 25% of the monitored patients developed signs of dementia, which while a shocking number, doesn’t necessarily prove any solid correlation between apnea and dementia. In other words, you shouldn’t assume you’ll develop dementia just if you happen to suffer from apnea, even if you’re not as young as you used to be.

Poor Sleep May Contribute to Alzheimer’s

So, if there isn’t a solid connection between apnea and dementia, what about memory-loss and Alzheimer’s? To study this, researchers took a slightly different route; they used video games to test memory deficiencies in patients.


18 test subjects were broken into two groups and given a unique, 3D maze to solve in a video game before going to sleep. Half of those that were given the maze were allowed the use of CPAP machines, while the others were not.

Then, their results in the nightly video game were studied to see if there was any notable sign of memory loss, confusion, or increased difficulty with the maze.


The results of this test were interesting, to say the least. The patients who slept with their CPAP machines showed an overall 30% better score than those who did not get treatment throughout the night. Also, the patients who were on their CPAP machines tended to get through the maze 4% faster.

So, what do these study results mean? On the surface, it would appear that there is a correlation between poor sleeping and memory loss, however, these tests are a bit off in terms of their accuracy.

Consider for a moment that while 167 patients is not the smallest sample size, there might have been other factors in those elderly test subject’s lives that could have contributed towards their having dementia.

25% of study participants developing signs of dementia may seem shocking, but that means that 75% didn’t, and that’s strong enough to say that there is no definitive proof of a direct connection between sleep apnea and dementia.

Second, the Alzheimer’s test was done on an extremely small test group, and again, there could have been multiple reasons for their lack of response.

Possible causes could have ranged from a lack of knowledge or enthusiasm about video games to factors in their daily lives that were distracting them. Also, the results were not significant enough to show a conclusive relationship between apnea and Alzheimer’s.

While it is known that the brain needs oxygen, and that depriving it of oxygen can lead to cognitive issues, there are a striking amount of people in this world that suffer from sleep apnea with no directly noticeable memory side-effects.

One in four American males suffer from some form of sleep apnea, and while these test results do tend to suggest a relationship between apnea and profound memory loss, more testing will be conducted to determine any definite correlation. If you struggle with restful sleep, don’t wait until you can’t remember where your keys are to address your nighttime issues. Contact your physician, and let Sleep Rite help you get the rest you need!