HEAVY snoring and sleep apnoea may be linked to memory loss and cognitive decline at an earlier age than normal, according to a new study.
The study found that those who experienced sleep breathing problems were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) on average almost 10 years earlier than those who exhibited no breathing issues while sleeping.
But early treatment of snoring or breathing problems during sleep, known as sleep apnoea, with a breathing machine may halt mental decline.
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Looking specifically at individuals who developed MCI or Alzheimer's disease during the study, those with sleep breathing problems were diagnosed with MCI at an average age of 77, compared to 90 for those without breathing issues during sleep.
While those who were treated for their sleep breathing problems did not suffer from MCI until 10 years later than those who had not been treated.
Dr Ricardo Osorio, the lead author of the study who is based at NYU Langone Medical Center, said: "The age of onset of MCI for people whose breathing problems were treated was almost identical to that of people who did not have any breathing problems at all.
"Given that so many older adults have sleep breathing problems, these results are exciting - we need to examine whether using a continuous positive airway pressure machine could possibly help prevent or delay memory and thinking problems," he added.
Abnormal breathing during sleep is a problem for many elderly people and affects roughly 52 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women.
While snoring or sleep apnoea is not thought to cause dementia or mental decline, those who had problems, but did not treat them, suffered MCI earlier, according to the study.
Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer's Society, said: "Most of us don't think of snoring as something to be concerned about but frequent, loud snoring could be a sign of sleep apnoea.
"Interestingly, the small number of people who received treatment in this study did not experience early cognitive decline, suggesting treatment could be an effective way to preserve cognitive health for longer."
The study reviewed the medical histories of 2,470 people between the ages of 55 and 90, who were free from cognitive impairment, in the early stages of MCI or suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
It was published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
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