Women with sleep apnoea more likely to suffer dementia

Women who suffer with breathing problems during sleep could be at higher risk of developing dementia

Older women who suffer with apnoea – a sleep disorder that reduces oxygen levels in the brain – are 50 per cent more likely to develop dementia or cognitive impairment than women who sleep well.

US researchers suggest that conditions such as apnoea affect up to 60 per cent of older people. These findings could have a huge impact on public health, especially as there are treatments for sleep apnoea.

‘The increased risk for cognitive impairment associated with sleep-disordered breathing opens a new avenue for additional research,’ says Dr Kristine Yaffe, University of California, who carried out the study.

The study of 300 women with an average age of 82 years measured the number of times their breathing was interrupted or briefly ceased while they were asleep, and levels of oxygen deprivation in the brain.

One third of the women met the criteria for sleep-disordered breathing and after more than four years of follow-up, 36 per cent of the women developed mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

At least half a million Britons suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea and Dr Anne Corbett, research manager at the Alzheimer’s Society, says: ‘It is vital that we identify and treat breathing disorders during sleep to help reduce the risk of dementia in later life.

‘People can cut down on their likelihood of developing dementia by up to a third by eating a good diet, keeping a healthy weight and taking regular exercise. It’s also important to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.’

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