Study Links Sleep Apnea to Impaired Memory in Older Adults at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

May 15, 2024

A new study shows a link between the frequency of sleep apnea events during rapid eye movement (REM) and the severity of verbal memory impairment in older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The findings appear online in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.

The study involved 81 middle-aged and older adults from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center of whom 62% were female.

“Women are more likely to have a greater proportion of their apneic events in REM sleep in comparison to men, which could potentially be contributing to their greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Ruth Benca, M.D., professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Benca is a co-corresponding author of the paper along with Bryce Mander, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine. 

Study participants underwent polysomnography, which is a comprehensive test that records brain waves, eye movements, muscle activity, blood oxygen levels, heart rate and breathing during sleep, along with verbal memory assessments.

The researchers discovered a specific correlation between the severity of sleep apnea, which is when breathing pauses while an individual is sleeping, and diminished cognition. Results showed apnea events during REM to be a critical factor contributing to verbal memory decline.

“These findings highlight the importance of screening for sleep apnea, which could be a modifiable risk factor for older adults who are at risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” Benca said.

Read the full release from the University of California, Irvine.

Media Contact: Myra Wright,