A number of studies have discovered linkages between obstructive sleep apnea and various health problems. One issue whose connection to apnea has been suggested but never definitively confirmed is dementia; now the connection appears stronger than ever.
Researchers have discovered that older men whose sleep suffers due to sleep apnea show a high correlation with dementia. As for what mechanism may be causing this effect, one theory has gained favor:
Specifically, the researchers found that elderly men who had less oxygen circulating in their blood during sleep tended to show more “microinfarcts” in the brain. Microinfarcts are tiny abnormalities in brain tissue that can precede dementia. . . . Meanwhile, men who spent less time in slow-wave sleep — the deep, restorative stage of sleep — tended to show more atrophy in their brain tissue.
Add this study to the pile of deeply troubling correlations surrounding obstructive sleep apnea. Taken together, these findings suggest an unavoidable conclusion: that the effects of broken sleep patterns may be profound.