How Obstructive Sleep Apnea Affects Your Cognitive Function

Obstructive sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that you might not even know you have. Also known as OSA, it can disrupt many areas of your life and cause multiple long-term health problems. One of the many health problems that stem from OSA is cognitive decline. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, suspect you might, or know someone who does, it is essential to seek treatment to lower your risk of these health conditions. Keep reading to learn more about the link between obstructive sleep apnea and cognitive decline and how to get proper sleep apnea treatment to improve your sleep and your health.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by episodes of a complete (apnea) or partial collapse (hypopnea) of the upper airway with an associated decrease in oxygen saturation or arousal from sleep. This disturbance results in fragmented, nonrestorative sleep. Other symptoms include loud, disruptive snoring, witnessed apneas during sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness. OSA has significant implications for cardiovascular health, mental illness, quality of life, and driving safety.

Obstructive sleep apnea can cause many health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Obesity
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Abnormal heart rhythm

Normal breathing happens through the nose. However, when the airway is obstructed, our body’s survival mode kicks in, and we start breathing through our mouths. The nose acts as a filter for toxins and gives better-quality oxygen to the lungs and blood. In addition, the nose humidifies the air as it enters, allowing for better sleep. Breathing through the mouth every once in a while, such as when you’re sick, is normal, but if it’s happening every night, you may have obstructive sleep apnea.

How Does OSA Cause Cognitive Decline?

There is emerging evidence that obstructive sleep apnea is a risk factor for preclinical Alzheimer’s disease (AD). An American Thoracic Society workshop was convened that included clinicians, basic scientists, and epidemiologists with expertise in OSA, cognition, and dementia, with the overall objectives of summarizing the state of knowledge in the field, identifying important research gaps, and identifying potential directions for future research.

OSA can negatively influence the risk, manifestations, and possibly progression of AD and other forms of dementia due to intermittent hypoxia effects. Hypoxia refers to the tissues having too little oxygen in order to function normally. This includes the brain, which is likely why OSA and cognitive decline have a significant link.

Statistics include:

  • AD patients have a 5-fold increased risk of presenting with OSA compared to age-matched controls
  • 50% of AD patients experience OSA after their initial diagnosis
  • OSA may promote the worsening of existing AD
  • 105 elderly women with OSA had a higher risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia compared to 193 women without OSA

What Are Signs of Cognitive Decline?

Do you have obstructive sleep apnea and are worried about your high risk of cognitive decline? There are many signs and symptoms you and your loved ones can start looking out for. Many cognitive impairments happen as we get older, which is a totally normal part of aging. These things include forgetting which words to use, losing things occasionally, or occasionally forgetting to do something that is normally routine, such as a payment.

However, mild cognitive impairment may be present if you forget to go to important events, lose things very often, or have trouble coming up with words to use.

Signs of more serious cognitive impairment include:

  • Trouble having a conversation
  • Problems with reading and writing
  • Asking the same question repeatedly
  • Telling the same story repeatedly
  • Difficulty with basic daily activities
  • Problems with handling money and paying bills
  • Becoming lost in familiar places
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations

There is no treatment or cure for cognitive decline or related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia. However, you can lower your risk by leading a healthy lifestyle, eating healthy, using memory tools, playing memory games, staying social, and getting enough sleep.

Since getting enough sleep is one of the ways you can lower your risk of cognitive decline, treating OSA should be at the forefront if you suffer from it. Once you get good quality sleep, your risk for many health issues, including cognitive decline, dramatically decreases.

How Are Dementia and Alzheimer’s Different?

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is trouble remembering new information because the disease typically impacts the part of the brain associated with learning first. As Alzheimer’s advances, symptoms get more severe and include disorientation, confusion, and behavior changes. Eventually, speaking, swallowing, and walking becomes difficult.

Though the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age, the disease is not a normal part of aging. And though most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, approximately 200,000 Americans under 65 are living with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, or other thinking skills. Many different types of dementia exist, and many conditions cause it. Mixed dementia is a condition in which brain changes of more than one type of dementia occur simultaneously. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of dementia cases.

What Are Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

If you think your partner’s incessant snoring is just nothing more than just a bad habit that annoys you, it is important to speak to your partner. In addition, if you are consistently told that you snore, don’t brush it off. Snoring is not the usual way a person should sleep or breathe, and it is a symptom of a much more significant health issue.

Signs that you, your partner, or your loved one suffers from obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Excessive daytime fatigue and drowsiness
  • Breathing stops while sleeping
  • Gasping or choking at night
  • Frequently waking up with a sore throat
  • Frequent dry mouth
  • Headaches, especially in the morning
  • Difficulty focusing throughout the day
  • Needing to take a nap or drink excessive caffeine to get through the day
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Low sex drive

If you have any of the above symptoms—especially if you have episodes of paused breathing, gasping, or loud snoring—it is crucial to make an appointment with your doctor to get treated for obstructive sleep apnea.

What Happens if I Leave OSA Untreated?

Obstructive sleep apnea is an issue that happens while you’re sleeping, which can make it fall on your list of priorities. If it is not affecting you during the day, then what’s the harm? Unfortunately, sleep apnea affects you during the day, and you might not be aware of it.

As mentioned earlier in this blog, obstructive sleep apnea can cause serious health issues. Obstructive sleep apnea does not go away over time, either. It actually gets worse over time, and your risk for health issues keeps rising with every passing night that you do not get a well-rested night’s sleep and the proper oxygen into your lungs, bloodstream, and tissues.

Simply put: Leaving OSA untreated can lead to a shorter lifespan. While snoring might not seem like a big deal to you, it is causing multiple problems throughout your body and should be taken very seriously.

How Can I Treat OSA Without A CPAP?

If you have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, there are many options available to you for treatment. One of the most common treatment methods is a CPAP machine; however, this doesn’t have to be your only option.

CPAP machines are loud, bulky, and uncomfortable, and they are just as loud and annoying for partners as snoring. They are difficult to travel with and can be embarrassing, which is why many people choose not to use them or avoid seeing a sleep apnea treatment specialist.

Good news: You do not have to treat sleep apnea with a CPAP machine!

There are many root causes for sleep apnea, and finding what affects you explicitly will be your best route for long-term, successful sleep apnea treatment. CPAP machines simply put a bandaid on the issue without actually resolving it. At Gorman Health and Wellness, we can help you find the root cause of your obstructive sleep apnea and fix it.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment Gorman Health and Wellness

Dr. Gorman is a part of the breathing wellness movement, which aims to increase awareness and improve treatment for sleep-related airway conditions like sleep apnea. He has partnered with organizations focused on collaborating with dentists to apply the sciences of Craniofacial Epigenetics (the study of cranial modifications caused by gene expression as opposed to genetic code alteration) and Pneumopedics® (the practical application of oral appliance therapy and non-surgical airway remodeling) in the management of sleep apnea.

Applying these sciences allows for underlying causes of airway obstruction to be treated in 98% of cases, resulting in a high success rate among sleep apnea patients. For every sleep apnea case at our practice, Dr. Gorman will gather patient data and determine the patient’s specific needs based on home sleep test results, dental impressions, CT scans, and images. Our state-of-the-art technology, paired with Dr. Gorman’s experience with sleep disorders, allows him to find the most effective treatment plan for each individual’s particular case, yielding improved daytime and nighttime breathing for the patient.

“I have been helping people suffering from Sleep Apnea with a non-invasive, clinically approved treatment method. This method has allowed my patients to sleep with far fewer events per hour, allowing them to eliminate their CPAP and BiPAP machines. Imagine not having to use one of those machines, bringing back a much more excellent quality of life along with the benefits of breathing better.” – Dr. Gorman

For more information on Dr. Gorman, improving your sleep apnea, and decreasing your chances for dementia, contact us today.

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