Do you or your partner snore – Doctors warn of major memory problems. Alzheimers could strike 5 years earlier – and Dementia 10 years earlier.

All the major worldwide press and magazines have been headlining the subject this week after new research highlighted this major problem, and it comes at a time when even UK Government is concerned by this massively growing problem.

Older woman refusing medication at home

GP’s currently are undertaking an identification scheme in which NHS England’s aim was for 67% of patients to have a formal diagnosis by 31 March 2015. Although offering GPs £55 per diagnosis, only 59.3% of patients thought to have dementia in the UK have been given a formal diagnosis, and it has fallen well short of targets according to the figures from the GP Health and Social Care Information Centre.

If your partner snores heavily at night, you might simply be tempted to give them a dig in the ribs and go back to sleep, but that noisy irritating sound might actually be an early warning sign of dementia. Researchers have discovered that people who have breathing problems while they are asleep are much more likely to experience an early decline in memory and other brain functions.

In a worrying study, they found that people with sleep apnoea, a condition often typified by heavy snoring, saw mental decline more than 10 years earlier than for those who had no sleep problems. The results also suggested that the onset of Alzheimer’s might be accelerated among those with sleeping problems.

  • People who snore are more likely to experience early memory decline
  • Those with sleep apnoea saw a mental decline over a decade earlier
  • Sleep apnoea is where the throat narrows in sleep, and in doing so causes you to snore and interrupts your breathing
  • Onset of Alzheimer’s may be accelerated if you have sleep problems

Almost 700,000 Britons suffer from sleep apnoea, which is most often found in middle-aged, overweight men, but is fast developing now in more women. The loose tissue from being overweight causes the muscles in the airway to contract during sleep, which cuts off the air supply, and usually results in a heavy snore. Obstructive sleep apnoea, or OSA, causes disrupted sleep and daytime exhaustion, pushing up blood pressure to dangerous levels and is closely related to both heart disease and diabetes.

Study author Dr Ricardo Osorio, of New York University, said: ‘Abnormal breathing patterns during sleep such as heavy snoring and sleep apnoea are common in the elderly.’

The research team studied the medical histories of 2,470 people, aged 55 to 90. Their investigation, published in the journal Neurology, found that people with sleep breathing problems were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment at an average age of 77.

Those with no breathing problems, in comparison, did not typically see a decline until age 90 – more than a decade later. Among that group, those who had sleep breathing problems also developed Alzheimer’s disease five years earlier than those who did not have sleep breathing problems, at an average age of 83 compared to 88.

The scientists also found that treating the problem saw significant results.

Dr Osorio said: ‘The findings were made in an observational study and as such, do not indicate a cause-and-effect relationship, The research team team did not establish exactly why heavy snoring might cause early dementia, but previous research has also established links between sleep disruption and dementia.

British charities last night welcomed the findings.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the 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 – a disorder that affects breathing during sleep.’

Dr Simon Ridley of Alzheimer’s Research UK, added: ‘This study adds to evidence that disrupted breathing during sleep could be a risk factor for memory and thinking decline in older age. A good supply of oxygen to the brain is vital to keep it healthy and it is interesting to see that treatment of sleep apnoea was associated with a trend towards a later onset of memory and thinking problems.’

Do something about snoring NOW – and don’t forget – or later you might.

John Redfern