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Sleep apnea, those who suffer from it have more memory and thought organization problems

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Sleep apnea, those who suffer from it have more memory and thought organization problems

by Cristina Marrone

American researchers have discovered that those suffering from sleep apnea are 50% more likely to have difficulty organizing their thoughts

People who suffer from sleep apnea may be more likely to experience memory and thought organization problems. This is stated by a preliminary study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology congress to be held in Denver. The authors note that the study shows a positive association, but it has not been determined whether sleep apnea causes cognitive decline.

What is sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder characterized by repeated episodes of complete or partial obstruction of the upper airways during sleep which reduce the supply of oxygen and lead to the fragmentation of sleep itself because they cause many micro-awakenings. Approximately one in four adults suffer from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Mostly these are men but, unlike what many people think, women can also have to deal with it, especially after menopause. Apneas typically last 10 to 30 seconds, but can sometimes exceed a minute; if the obstruction is only partial, snoring occurs, which generally precedes the onset of the actual syndrome by a few years.
People with this disorder may also suffer from headaches that can last several hours after waking up and attention deficit, with difficulty concentrating on complex tasks.

The study on questionnaires

“Sleep apnea is a common disorder that is often underdiagnosed, even though treatments are actually available,” commented study author Dominique Low, a neurologist at the Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts. “Our study found that participants with sleep apnea symptoms were more likely to have memory-related problems.” The research involved 4,257 people. Participants completed a questionnaire asking about sleep quality, as well as memory and thinking problems. For sleep, participants were asked whether they blew, panted, or paused for breathing during sleep. Regarding memory and thinking, participants were asked questions related to difficulty remembering, periods of confusion, difficulty concentrating, or problems with decision making. Among all participants, 1,079 reported sleep apnea symptoms. Among those with symptoms, 357 people, or 33%, reported problems with memory or thought organization compared to 628 people, or 20% of people without sleep apnea symptoms. After “cleaning” the study for other factors that might influence memory and thinking problems, the researchers found that those who said they had sleep apnea were about 50 percent more likely to also report having memory problems. or thought organization compared to people with memory problems, but without sleep apnea.

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The importance of early screening for therapies

“These results highlight the importance of early screening for bedtime syndrome,” the authors underlined. Discovering the disorder allows quicker access to therapies. In those who are overweight and have a mild syndrome, it may be enough to lose weight: around 10 percent of the kilos lost contributes directly to the reduction of fat around the airways, so much so that 5 kilos less can be enough to be able to wear a shirt with a collar closer. In approximately one in two cases, apneas depend on the supine position and are of a mild-moderate degree: in these patients, sleeping in a lateral position can be decisive and there are many methods to “force” them, from artisanal ones (sewing a pocket in the back part of the pajamas in which to insert one or more tennis balls, wear a rigid backpack, use a pillow that allows you to lie only on your side and so on) to newer ones, such as stimulators that transmit a disturbing vibration to the neck and chest when you lay on your back. However, the most widespread and effective treatment is continuous positive pressure mechanical ventilation, the so-called CPAP, which “pushes” air in order to prevent the airways from collapsing: it must be prescribed by the doctor who must find the adequate air pressure and the right mask (there are many types, generally it is better to prefer nasal ones to those that also cover the mouth) and “train” the patient for a few days, motivating him. The adequate air pressure is essentially the minimum capable of eliminating all (or almost all) sleep apnea; it must also be remembered that to obtain all the benefits, CPAP must be used at least 4-5 hours a night. Limitations of the study are that the data came from a survey and participants self-reported their symptoms, without being assessed by professionals. Further studies will be needed to better understand the association between sleep apnea and memory problems.

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March 5, 2024


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