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Sleep Apnea Raises Dementia Risk

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Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes people afflicted with the disorder to temporarily stop breathing during the night, can raise the risk of dementia and other cognitive impairments–at least in women.

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California San Francisco and California Pacific Medical Center, of the 298 women involved in the study that had mild sleep apnea, 45% developed mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment was defined as the beginning stages of dementia or dementia that onset after five years during the study. About another 31% of the 298 total women in the studied developed cognitive impairment as a result of their sleep apnea. Sleep apnea was the only nighttime breathing problem that led to cognitive impairment.

Since sleep apnea is very treatable disorder, the study has strong implications for doctors to treat patients before they develop cognitive impairment. In addition, the sleep study also revealed the importance of quality of sleep, not just quantity, on long-term brain health. Doctors have already suspected that sleep provides us with an opportunity to consolidate memories and the new research on sleep apnea and dementia shows that poor quality of sleep does much more than diminish memory loss. And although the study only included women, the results of the study likely apply to men, too.