The Alzheimer’s-Oxygen Connection

sad older womanThe Alzheimer’s-Oxygen Connection

Each Tuesday afternoon I purpose to visit my 93 year old friend, Helen, in the nursing home where she lives. It’s one of the sweetest parts of my week, and yet, one of the saddest. You see, while my friend’s mind is sharp as a tack, most of the residents in her nursing home suffering from a degree of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (which accounts for 60-70% of dementias). Some of the residents I encounter weekly are completely out of touch with reality, non-verbal, or are simply left babbling incoherently by this mind-wasting disease process.

In my book, Get Healthy for Heaven’s Sake, I discuss how we can best protect ourselves from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized within the brain by the accumulation of tau protein tangles and amyloid-beta plaques. Yet it is important to provide updates as there are always new research discoveries being made in this field of cognitive loss.

This month at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, researchers from Wheaton College shed new light on the connection between hypopnea (under-breathing) and/or apnea (cessation of breathing) episodes and the accumulation of amyloid plaques within the brain. A three-year study of 500+ cognitively normal adults, aged 71-78, showed that those with sleep-disordered breathing issues (primarily obstructive sleep apnea) had greater increases in amyloid-beta deposits (plaques) within their brains. Other studies have previously demonstrated that prolonged sleep disturbances increase the amount of tau protein tangles in the brain.

While it is still not understood whether early levels of brain disease promote sleep apnea or if those persons having trouble sleeping normally are more likely to develop brain disease, the connection between Alzheimer brain plaques and tangles and less-than-adequate oxygen while sleeping is undeniable.

The moral of this research story? If you suspect that you have sleep apnea (snoring, choking, jolting awake, tired after a “full night’s sleep”), or if you have been diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea, you MUST do something to help yourself! The wearing of an oral splint or the use of a CPAP or BiPAP machine at night can very well be the difference between maintaining and losing your mind—cognitively speaking. Don’t waste precious time. You only have one brain.

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