University of Florida Health researchers hope to find out. With a 5-year, $2 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, a study team led by Christopher Kaufmann, Ph.D., M.H.S., will evaluate whether Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP machines used to treat obstructive sleep apnea can improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia over time. The study team also includes researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the University of Maryland-Baltimore.
Sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder that affects about 15 percent of Americans, causes those affected to repeatedly stop breathing and then start breathing again a few moments later while asleep. People with sleep apnea also tend to snore loudly and face an elevated risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other complications.
“Studies have already shown that obstructive sleep apnea is highly prevalent and is associated with a risk of cognitive decline and dementia, particularly among older adults,” said Kaufmann, an assistant professor in the University of Florida College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics.
“We also know that when used properly and regularly, CPAP machines are highly effective in treating sleep apnea,” he said.
In this study, the researchers will analyze 14 years of data collected from two national studies of older adults in the U.S.: the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), and National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS). The team will use the data to evaluate whether consistent, regular use of CPAP treatments can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in people diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea.
The researchers will also determine whether, in those with obstructive sleep apnea, the effects of CPAP treatment on cognition differ among groups of people that past research has shown face a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease—for example those with lower education, advanced age, and cardiovascular disease.
“We want to identify the populations of people who would benefit most from CPAP treatments, and determine ways that delivery of obstructive sleep apnea treatments could be optimized in high-risk groups,” he said.