Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Aging

Aging is a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). (I myself had no symptoms of OSA until I reached my late 40s.) The incidence of OSA increases with age, reaching at peak at age 65. (Why is not clear.) Thirty-two percent of adults between the ages of 60 and 69 have mild OSA, while 19% have moderate or severe OSA. Research also shows that middle-aged adults with severe OSA are at greater risk for cognitive impairment compared to younger adults (e.g., problems with attention, memory, and executive functions like the ability to plan and monitor activities).

As if this wasn’t bad enough, a few years ago researchers at UC San Francisco found that having disordered sleep (OSA) was associated with higher rates of dementia among the elderly. Two hundred and ninety-eight women without dementia participated in the study (average age of 82). The participants had overnight sleep studies; 105 of the women were found to have disturbed sleep (OSA) and 193 had no symptoms of disturbed sleep.

About five years later the women were given a battery of cognitive tests. Among the women who had no disturbed sleep, 31% had developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia. But among the women who had disturbed sleep (OSA) 45% had developed MCI or dementia. Persons with untreated OSA typically have lower oxygen concentrations in the blood and researchers believe this may have been a risk factor of MCI/dementia for these research subjects.

Take away: If you suspect you have OSA go see your doctor. If you are diagnosed with OSA, seek treatment. If you are prescribed a CPAP, use it. Regular use of a CPAP can eliminate or significantly reduce the symptoms and negative health consequences of OSA.