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This Decreases Your Risk of Dementia Remarkably, Study Finds

How poor-quality sleep can permanently affect your brain health.

Older people who use a device to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia, a recent study has found. Researchers at Michigan Medicine looked at 50,000 Medicare recipients over age 65 who had been diagnosed with OSA. They found that people who used positive airway pressure devices (also known as CPAP) were less likely to be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's disease in the next three years than people who didn't use positive airway pressure. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

A Sleep Apnea Machine, For Those Who Need It, May Help Prevent Dementia, the Study Shows

"We found a significant association between positive airway pressure use and lower risk of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia over three years, suggesting that positive airway pressure may be protective against dementia risk in people with OSA," said the study's lead author, Galit Levi Dunietz, Ph.D., MPH, an assistant professor of neurology and sleep epidemiologist at the University of Michigan.

The study is another in a long line of research illustrating that quality sleep is important for brain health and cognitive function. "If a causal pathway exists between OSA treatment and dementia risk, as our findings suggest, diagnosis and effective treatment of OSA could play a key role in the cognitive health of older adults," said study principal investigator Tiffany J. Braley, MD, MS, an associate professor of neurology.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Prevent Dementia, Says Dr. Sanjay Gupta

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea causes the soft tissues of the airway to collapse upon each other, inhibiting breathing. This can cause loud snoring, or breathing to stop for as long a minute before the brain wakes you up to resume breathing. Those pauses can happen many times a night. 

All those interruptions are exhausting, resulting in poor sleep quality. Not only does it affect how you'll feel the next day, several studies have connected sleep apnea and low-quality sleep to memory loss, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a shortened lifespan overall.

RELATED: Everyday Habits That Make You Older, Say Experts

How Does Quality Sleep Affect the Brain?

During deep sleep—a.k.a. rapid eye movement (REM) sleep—the body heals and recharges itself. The brain flushes away toxins, a cleaning-up process that researchers believe improves its function and lowers the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. According to a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, sleep apnea can negatively affect spatial navigational memory, a kind of "cognitive map" that includes being able to remember directions and where you put things like your keys. 

Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, observed irregular breathing during sleep, daytime sleepiness, or waking with a dry mouth or sore throat. A healthcare provider can diagnose sleep apnea and help you decide if therapy such as a CPAP device is right for you. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss these 13 Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Killing You.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael