Health Waking up to a connection between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease.

Waking up to a connection between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease.

A new leaf has been turned in brain research thanks to a study that makes a long-suspected connection between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lead investigator Professor Stephen Robinson from RMIT University said the study is the first to find Alzheimer’s-like amyloid plaques in the brains of people with clinically-verified obstructive sleep apnea.

While scientists have known for some time that the two diseases are related, what drives the connection is still unclear.

The team looked at the brains of people who had recently died while being treated for sleep apnea, but who had not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

They found that some of the subjects had Alzheimer’s after all, finding the same plaques on the brain.

“We know that if you have sleep apnea in mid-life, you’re more likely to develop Alzheimer’s when you’re older, and if you have Alzheimer’s you are more likely to have suffered from sleep apnea than other people your age,” Professor Robinson said.

“The connection is there but untangling the causes and biological mechanisms remains a huge challenge,” he said.

“It’s an important advance in our understanding of the links between these conditions and opens up new directions for researchers striving to develop therapies for treating, and hopefully preventing, Alzheimer’s disease.”

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