Connecting the Dots: Undiagnosed sleep apnea and dementia [QUIZ]

Connecting the Dots: Undiagnosed sleep apnea and dementia [QUIZ]

by Americare Respiratory Services

Sleep apnea symptoms often go undiagnosed or dismissed.  For example, you might complain to your doctor about having heartburn at night, so he prescribes you something for the heartburn without investigating WHY you are getting heartburn.  Likewise, someone who has trouble sleeping all night long might get a prescription for sleeping pills, but that does not address the actual cause of insomnia.  Night time heartburn and insomnia are symptoms of sleep apnea. 

Dr. Brandon Peters recently published a well-written article in Huffington Post about sleep apnea.  He discusses the under-diagnosis of sleep apnea in response to a research article published in JAMA Neurology.  The JAMA study reported a 44% increased risk of dementia was associated with taking medications for heartburn, acid reflux, GERD, etc.  The study included mostly women, 75 and older.

Dr. Peters points out that untreated sleep apnea is ALSO associated with a higher risk of dementia.

The increased risk of dementia may actually be inflated in patients who have undiagnosed sleep apnea.

An association is just that.  It’s not a cause-and-effect relationship.  There is an association between dementia and sleep apnea and taking certain medications, but there can be no relief if the actual cause of the association is not identified and treated.  In patients with night time heartburn and insomnia, it seems logical to explore the possibility of obstructive sleep apnea by doing a sleep study

Last fall we shared a research update showing how the blood-brain barrier becomes more permeable at night when you are sleeping.  This may explain the association between sleep apnea, certain medications, and cognitive decline (i.e., dementia).  There are many other studies that have been published along these lines, and you can see the list in Dr. Peters’ article

Let’s take a quick poll.  Assuming you have some level of sleep apnea because (1) you are visiting and (2) are interested in our sleep apnea blog, you are the perfect audience for us to ask about your medication use. 

(1)    Have you been diagnosed with sleep apnea? 

(2)    Do you experience night time heart burn and/or insomnia? 

(3)    Do you take any of these medications to treat heartburn or acid reflux?

a.       Omeprazole (Prilosec)

b.       Pantoprazole (Protonix)

c.       Lansoprazole (Prevacid)

d.       Esomeprazole (Nexium)

e.       Rabeprazole (AcipHex)

(4)    Do you take any of these medications to help you sleep? 

a.       lorazepam (Ativan)

b.       clonazepam (Klonopin)

c.       diazepam (Valium)

d.       alprazolam (Xanax)

e.       Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Aleve PM, or ZzzQuil

If you answered yes to at least 3 of these questions, you may have a higher risk of developing dementia due to undiagnosed sleep apnea or the medications you are taking. 

Feel free to share your responses in the comments section below.