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Sleep Apnea And Alzheimer's Disease

   Sleep apnea is a condition that is more common in aging and dementia. Sleep apnea occurs when a person momentarily stops breathing while still sound asleep. Because the breath is held longer than normal, oxygen levels fall in the bloodstream. The condition, can, in fact, be diagnosed by monitoring oxygen levels with a device called a pulse oximeter.
    What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea? Excessive nighttime snoring and daytime sleepiness, despite adequate hours asleep, are tell-tale signs [184]. Daytime sleepiness, caused by sleep apnea, has been implicated as a cause of many auto accidents. Awakening excessively at night to go to the bathroom is often precipitated by an episode of sleep apnea [185]. Sleep apnea also increases mental confusion and impairs memory, in demented and non-demented elderly [186-187]. Sleep apnea can also raise nightime systolic blood pressure [188]. Less common effects of sleep apnea are hallucinations, headaches, and sexual difficulties [189].
    Sleep apneas occur more frequently in alzheimer patients than in non-demented elderly [190-191]. Episodes of sleep apnea are also longer. Sleep apnea also becomes more severe as the underlying dementia becomes more severe [192]. Sleep apnea can aggravate existing memory defects and confusion in alzheimer patients. Snoring at night, a sign of sleep apnea, is twice as prevalent in alzheimer patients as in elderly controls [193].
    Sleep apnea is relatively easy to treat, once it is correctly diagnosed by a physician. Some patients are given special appliances to wear to create positive airway pressure, and this positive pressure corrects the underlying sleep apnea. Sometimes, conservative treatment can solve sleep apnea. Avoid caffeine, since that can precipitate sleep apnea in sensitive people. Sleeping on the back instead of the side or stomach can sometimes alleviate a minor sleep apnea.