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Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Cognitive Decline

You know how when you’re really tired, you sometimes can’t seem to function properly? Maybe you roll out of bed and struggle to find the K-cup for your morning coffee. Maybe you’ve been up past your bedtime and can’t quite seem to finish that crossword puzzle. Worse still, what if you need to get to work but you keep nodding off at the breakfast table? No matter the time of day, when you feel tired, it can really cause your cognitive functions to suffer, and in some cases (like driving), that can be very dangerous.

Thankfully, once you’re rested, this cognitive impairment usually clears up, and life, as they say, goes on. But what if you have a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) that continually affects your sleep? 

What Is OSA?

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by an airway blockage in your throat that causes the airway to relax and the body to struggle to breathe. People with OSA will often gasp for air or make choking or snorting sounds while they sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea can also cause low blood oxygen, and it can be a factor in many conditions like cancer, heart disease, depression and even diabetes.

What Causes OSA?

There are many different causes of OSA, including weight, smoking, genetics, high blood pressure and even asthma. Despite the different causes, OSA mostly manifests itself in the same ways from person to person. The sleep disorder affects people of all genders, but it is more common in middle-aged men than others.

The Side Effects of OSA

While researchers have known for many years that OSA causes dangerous side effects, it can also cause cognitive impairment issues and brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Despite knowing these side effects occurred, however, it was not until recently that the link between cognitive decline and OSA was examined more closely, and the results were quite alarming.

The research was presented in a study that was published in Frontiers In Sleep. It followed 27 male participants who had OSA and were aged between 35 and 70. The men in the study had OSA ranging from mild to severe, but had no comorbid conditions present and were otherwise healthy. A control group of seven men without OSA was used as well.

What the study found was that the men with OSA scored lower on cognitive tests, including sustained attention, executive functioning, social and emotional recognition, and short-term visual recognition memory. In fact, according to the researchers, the more severe the participants’ OSA, the worse they scored.

Worse yet, the testing done during the study was for cognitive decline, not impairment, which means it is permanent and will not improve simply by getting a good night’s sleep.

Stopping Cognitive Decline

So, what’s the solution to stopping cognitive decline in patients with OSA? While researchers aren’t sure there is a solution at this point, preventing the dangerous side effects of obstructive sleep apnea is a good start. That means a proper OSA diagnosis and consistent treatment.

Unfortunately, OSA treatment can be tricky, as most patients are prescribed CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy, which is only effective if used, and therein lies the problem. Continuous positive airway pressure therapy is often considered awkward and uncomfortable, and as a result many people who are prescribed a CPAP unit do not use it as often as they should.

Thankfully, there are other options for treating OSA, such as a mandibular orthotic sleep device, which positions the airway open naturally, allowing the user to breathe without the use of a cumbersome mask and noisy machine.

Sleep orthotics are not only more convenient, but they are also easier to clean, and because they’re custom fitted to your mouth, they’re a lot more comfortable, increasing the likelihood you’ll use them.

The OSA Solution

If you are suffering from obstructive sleep apnea but aren’t impressed with your CPAP machine, you have options. Dr. Morgan offers mandibular orthotic devices for his patients. With these devices, you will no longer be tethered to a CPAP machine with complicated wiring and machinery. 

Your device will fit comfortably into your mouth and prop open your airway naturally, without the use of forced air. Best of all, there’s no tubing to clean, no mask to wear, and no complicated machinery to operate.

To learn more about orthotic sleep devices, contact Dr. Morgan for a consultation today!