PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — There’s another reason to get sleep apnea treated early.

A new study is showing that this condition in women is linked to thinking problems within five years.

“When I am interviewing people who are complaining of cognitive difficulties, that’s one of the things that I screen for,” says AGH demetia specialist Carol Schramke, PhD. “I ask them, ‘Are you snoring, are you waking up rested?’”

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the sleeping patterns of nearly 300 women, average age 82, were reviewed.

Among the women who had sleep apnea at the start of the study, almost half had mild thinking and memory problems after five years.

“This may actually explain why sometimes people don’t get better, because they may have already damage done to them,” explains Dr. Schramke. “We know that sleep apnea is associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure, higher risk of vascular disease, higher risk of stroke, so untreated sleep apnea is a bad thing.”

Sleep apnea, a condition where you stop breathing while you sleep, can be treated with a mask that keeps your airway open, something called CPAP.

“One of the big problems with sleep apnea treatment is the CPAP is not always well tolerated. People don’t like having something strapped to their face, they have trouble getting adjusted to it,” says Dr. Schramke.

About a third of the women without sleep apnea also developed thinking problems at the end of five years. More study will be needed to see if treating sleep apnea actually prevents memory loss and confusion.

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