A new study finds older adults who received positive airway pressure therapy (more commonly known as CPAP) 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 obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In this nationally representative study, they examined if those people who used CPAP 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, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of neurology and a sleep epidemiologist.

[RELATED: In Older Adults, Obstructive Sleep Apnea Is Often Present But Infrequently Diagnosed]

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, MD, MS, an associate professor of neurology, in a release.

Photo 30641712 © Gary ArbachDreamstime.com