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Sleep Apnea Linked to Changes in the Brain in Older Adults

Last Updated: July 09, 2018.

Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with changes to the structure of the brain that are seen in the early stages of dementia, according to a study published online July 5 in the European Respiratory Journal.

MONDAY, July 9, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with changes to the structure of the brain that are seen in the early stages of dementia, according to a study published online July 5 in the European Respiratory Journal.

Nathan E. Cross, Ph.D., from the University of Sydney, and colleagues assessed associations between OSA and cortical thickness in 83 middle-aged and older adults (51 to 88 years) considered at risk for dementia. Participants underwent neuropsychological testing, polysomnography assessment of OSA, and a structural magnetic resonance imaging brain scan.

The researchers found that oxygen desaturation was significantly related to reduced cortical thickness in the bilateral temporal lobes. However, sleep disturbance was associated with increased thickness in the right postcentral gyrus, pericalcarine, and pars opercularis, as well as increased volume of the hippocampus and amygdala. Reduced verbal encoding was associated with decreased thickness in the bilateral temporal regions.

"Given the clinical significance of this sample in terms of dementia prevention, these changes in grey matter reveal how OSA might contribute to neurodegenerative processes in older adults," the authors write.

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