How Sleep Apnea Leads to Early Onset Dementia
Earlier research shows that sleep apnea leads to early-onset dementia. This research showed that people with sleep apnea developed dementia about 10 years earlier. For example, the study showed that those with sleep apnea develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) around age 77, compared to age 90 for those without sleep apnea.
There are several theories of why this might happen, including changes in the brain, but the dominant theory is that sleep apnea interrupts the brain’s normal cleaning mechanisms.
During the day, the brain generates toxic byproducts during its normal function. At night, it’s supposed to remove those toxic byproducts. The cerebrospinal fluid does this task when the brain is engaged in really deep sleep, just before REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
When sleep apnea interrupts and disrupts your sleep potentially dozens of times an hour, it’s hard for your body to reach REM sleep or the vital cleaning period before it. Then the brain can’t remove the toxic substances. The substances build-up, creating plaques that interfere with brain function.
Previous research has shown that treatment with CPAP can slow the onset of dementia, but there is less research on the impact of oral appliance therapy. We also don’t have much research on how well sleep apnea treatment can reverse the effects of dementia once it develops.