Obstructive sleep apnoea can trigger the development of cognitive problems in people under the age of 70, latest research reveals.

Researchers have now confirmed that people with obstructive sleep apnoea are more at risk of developing some memory complications, such as Alzheimer’s and depression.

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a relatively common condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing.

The sleep condition is linked to a number of negative side effects, including loud snoring, headaches and disrupted sleep.

Prior research studies have detected a link between obstructive sleep apnoea and cardiovascular disease.

Ivana Rosenzweig, a neuropsychiatrist from King’s College London, said: “We show poorer executive functioning and visuospatial memory and deficits in vigilance, sustained attention, and psychomotor and impulse control in men with obstructive sleep apnoea.

“Most of these deficits had previously been ascribed to comorbidities. We also demonstrated for the first time that obstructive sleep apnoea can cause significant deficits in social cognition.”

During the study, 27 males newly diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea and seven men without the condition underwent cognitive tests.

According to the results, the participants with obstructive sleep apnoea ranked lower for executive functioning, sustained attention, short-term visual recognition memory, and social and emotion recognition than those without the condition.

The authors said: “Our findings suggest that distinct, OSA-driven processes may be sufficient for cognitive changes to occur as early as in middle age, in otherwise healthy individuals.”

Rosenzweig added: “This complex interplay is still poorly understood, but it’s likely that these lead to widespread neuroanatomical and structural changes in the brain and associated functional cognitive and emotional deficits.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Sleep.

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