Treating Sleep Apnea May Reduce Dementia Risk

Summary: People with sleep apnea who were exposed to positive airway pressure therapy had a reduced risk of being diagnosed with dementia.

Source: University of Michigan

A new study finds older adults who received positive airway pressure therapy prescribed for obstructive sleep apnea may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia.

Researchers from Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Centers analyzed Medicare claims of more than 50,000 Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older who had been diagnosed with OSA.

In this nationally representative study, they examined if those people who used positive airway pressure therapy were less likely to receive a new diagnosis of dementia or mild cognitive impairment over the next 3 years, compared to people who did not use positive airway pressure.

“We found a significant association between positive airway pressure use and lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia over three years, suggesting that positive airway pressure may be protective against dementia risk in people with OSA,” says lead author Galit Levi Dunietz, Ph.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of neurology and a sleep epidemiologist.

This shows a man snoozing
The findings stress the impact of sleep on cognitive function. Image is in the public domain

The findings stress the impact of sleep on cognitive function. “If a causal pathway exists between OSA treatment and dementia risk, as our findings suggest, diagnosis and effective treatment of OSA could play a key role in the cognitive health of older adults,” says study principal investigator Tiffany J. Braley, M.D., M.S., an associate professor of neurology.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the upper airway collapses repeatedly throughout the night, preventing normal breathing during sleep. OSA is associated with a variety of other neurological and cardiovascular conditions, and many older adults are at high risk for OSA.

And dementia is also prevalent, with approximately 5.8 million Americans currently living with it, Braley says.

About this OSA and dementia research news

Source: University of Michigan
Contact: Press Office – University of Michigan
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment and Dementia Risk in Older Adults” by G L Dunietz et al. Sleep


Obstructive Sleep Apnea Treatment and Dementia Risk in Older Adults

Study Objectives

To examine associations between PAP therapy, adherence and incident diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and dementia not-otherwise-specified (DNOS) in older adults.


This retrospective study utilized Medicare 5% fee-for-service claims data of 53,321 beneficiaries, aged 65+, with an OSA diagnosis prior to 2011. Study participants were evaluated using ICD-9 codes for neurocognitive syndromes [AD(n=1,057), DNOS(n=378), and MCI(n=443)] that were newly-identified between 2011-2013. PAP treatment was defined as presence of ≥1 durable medical equipment (HCPCS) code for PAP supplies. PAP adherence was defined as ≥2 HCPCS codes for PAP equipment, separated by≥1 month. Logistic regression models, adjusted for demographic and health characteristics, were used to estimate associations between PAP treatment or adherence and new AD, DNOS, and MCI diagnoses.


In this sample of Medicare beneficiaries with OSA, 59% were men, 90% were non-Hispanic whites and 62% were younger than 75y. The majority (78%) of beneficiaries with OSA were prescribed PAP (treated), and 74% showed evidence of adherent PAP use. In adjusted models, PAP treatment was associated with lower odds of incident diagnoses of AD and DNOS (OR=0.78, 95% CI:0.69-0.89; and OR=0.69, 95% CI:0.55-0.85). Lower odds of MCI, approaching statistical significance, were also observed among PAP users (OR=0.82, 95% CI:0.66-1.02). PAP adherence was associated with lower odds of incident diagnoses of AD (OR=0.65, 95% CI:0.56-0.76).


PAP treatment and adherence are independently associated with lower odds of incident AD diagnoses in older adults. Results suggest that treatment of OSA may reduce risk of subsequent dementia.

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