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A team of researchers recently concluded a Monash University study whose findings indicate a link between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and dementia.

The researchers found that a protein known as beta-amyloid is more abundant in patients suffering from severe OSA. The protein builds up in artery walls in the brain, increasing the chances of dementia. The researchers studied 34 individuals with a recent OSA diagnosis and 12 other individuals with asymptomatic sleep disorders. The study sought to establish the link between sleep and brain amyloid burden through PET brain scans.

The researchers observed higher amyloid burden in the OSA group and other characteristics such as lower sleep efficiency and less time in N3 sleep. The latter is the type of sleep where the body enters into a repair and healing state. OSA affects more tha 1 billion people and it occurs when the airway collapses during sleep. The condition causes irregular oxygen flow into the brain due to the airflow obstruction.

The disrupted air pathway results in a lack of enough oxygen as patients sleep, and as such, they end waking up and not having enough sleep. The disruption prevents the brain and body from entering N3 sleep, thus robbing the subject of their body’s natural healing ability.

The scientists are optimistic about the potential implications of the research

Dr. Melinda Jackson, a researcher at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, was the lead researcher in the study. She noted that the research proves that there is a significant link between OSA and brain amyloid. The findings are also significant because they will allow scientists to pursue more research to explore further details about OSA. The objective is to eventually find effective means of treating the health condition, which will reduce the risk of developing dementia.

The researchers hope that the research will pave the way for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms facilitating dementia onset. The scientists hope that the research will help develop therapeutic options that will help prevent dementia. The overall objective is to potentially improve the lives of millions, if not billions, of people through preventative approaches.