The sixth leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease now accounts for up to 75% of all dementia cases. However, a recent pilot study published in the journal Geriatrics found an anti-snoring device called myTAP may improve breathing patterns during sleep in people who snore, which could then improve cognitive processes (such as thinking, reasoning and remembering) of people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
myTAP is a custom-made oral appliance that holds the lower jaw in place, preventing soft throat tissue from collapsing into the airway. The device promotes nasal breathing, relieves snoring, and provides treatment to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when there’s irregular airflow blockage during sleep.
Senior author, psychologist and sleep scientist Preetam Schramm, PhD, from the Texas A&M University College of Dentistry said, “By facilitating respiration [using the myTAP device] during sleep through upper airway stabilization, sleep quality and continuity improves, and the brain’s natural waste clearing processes can be more efficient.”
Findings of the study
Researchers from the Center for BrainHealth, part of the University of Texas at Dallas and Texas A&M University, conducted a neurocognitive study that included a total of 37 participants between 50 and 85 years old who snored—nine with Alzheimer’s, 14 with mild cognitive impairment and 14 considered cognitively healthy.
The participants were asked to sleep at home normally while they experienced neurocognitive tests, involving recorders that tracked their breathing rate, heart rate and snoring.
Researchers found the number of breaths per minute – also known as respiration rate – during sleep changed more in people who were cognitively healthy compared to those with AD.
Furthermore, of the 37 participants, 18 went on to use the myTap device during sleep for four weeks. Experts found the respiration rate and fluctuation were significantly reduced in all of those participants, including six with AD and seven with mild cognitive impairment, leading to an improved overall quality of sleep.
However, while the study shows breathing and memory function improved in those with mild cognitive impairment and in some with AD after four weeks of treatment, scientists warn the findings of the study “should be interpreted with caution due to the small intention-to-treat sample.”
The inspiration for the study “began with presenters at a sleep conference in 2008 talking about patients with AD complaining about sleep problems long before MRI detected amyloid plaque,” said Schramm.
Importance of deep sleep
Just like exercising and eating healthy, sleep is critical to overall health. But when sleep is cut short, the Sleep Foundation reports the “body doesn’t have time to engage in processes that are needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation, and releasing hormones to regulate growth and appetite.”
If a person does not get enough deep sleep regularly – allowing for the clearing of waste products – it can cause the body to have difficulty making new memories or retaining information. This issue in the long term can be associated with AD and heart disease.
A continuous lack of deep sleep can be disturbed by one of two kinds of sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School states OSA is more common and happens when air can’t flow into or out of the nose or mouth for several seconds at a time, which can be seen in the form of snoring.
Next steps and what to look for
While the study did not include a large sample/participant size, researchers say their work – which highlights airway stabilization and nasal breathing facilitation – helps advance toward treatment options for mild cognitive impairment and AD snorers.
Schramm told Seasons the researchers are in the process of applying for a research grant from the National Institute on Aging to conduct a larger clinical trial, furthering this study.
“Habitual snoring is not benign, and if you, your children or your bed partner snores, seek help from a medical or dental professional,” said Schramm. “Early intervention to facilitate upper airway stability during sleep may prove to be one solution in reducing the consequences and perhaps the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.”