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Study Connects Sleep Apnea to Smaller Brain Volume: Don't Sleep on This

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According to a recent study in Neurology, those with amyloid plaques, an early symptom of Alzheimer's disease, and severe sleep apnea have smaller medial temporal lobe brain volumes, which includes the hippocampus. In individuals without plaques, this correlation—which would indicate a loss of brain cells—was not present. The study does not prove a connection between sleep apnea and reduced brain volume, though.

In those with early indications of Alzheimer's disease, severe sleep apnea has been linked to decreased brain volume in areas important for memory, according to a recent research. The study stresses the necessity for more investigation into therapies for sleep-disordered breathing in order to perhaps enhance cognition and postpone neurodegeneration.


In the research, those with amyloid plaques in the brain—an early indicator of Alzheimer's disease—but no memory issues were compared to those without amyloid plaques.


Geraldine Rauchs, PhD, of Inserm in Caen, France, is the study's lead author. "We found that people with amyloid plaques who had more severe sleep apneas also were more likely to have lower volumes in the medial temporal lobe area of the brain, including the hippocampus, which plays a role in memory and Alzheimer's disease," she said. Even though they had severe sleep apneas, those without amyloid plaques did not have this smaller brain volume.


The study simply demonstrates a connection; it does not establish that sleep apnea causes decreased brain volume.

There were 122 participants in the trial, with an average age of 69 and no memory issues. There were amyloid plaques in the brains of 26 individuals. Brain scans, memory assessments, and a home overnight sleep study were all done on the participants. After an average of 21 months, the memory tests were administered once more.


More severe sleep apneas were linked to reduced brain volume in the medial temporal lobe region of the brain in individuals with amyloid plaques, which may indicate the death of brain cells. People without amyloid plaques did not show this association. 

Sleep apneas at the beginning of the trial did not correlate with memory performance at the conclusion of the study.

The fact that the identical verbal learning test was administered at both the beginning and conclusion of the research constituted a study restriction, and it's likely that familiarity with the exam may have prevented some memory degradation.

Reference: "Association of Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Medial Temporal Lobe Atrophy in Cognitively Unimpaired Amyloid-Positive Older Adults" by Claire André, Elizabeth Kuhn, Stéphane Rehel, Valentin Ourry, Solène Demeilliez-Servouin, Cassandre Palix, Francesca Felisatti, Pierre Champetier, Sophie Dautricourt, Paul Yushkevich, Denis Viv