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Is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Related to Neuropsychological Function in Healthy Older Adults? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis


Previous systematic reviews and meta-analyses have identified cognitive deficits in adults with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). However, quantitative analysis of the association between OSA and neuropsychological performance has not been conducted specifically in older adults, for whom there is a greater risk of cognitive decline. We searched Medline, Embase and PsycINFO through August 2016 for studies describing associations between OSA and neuropsychological outcomes in people aged>50 years. Meta-analyses were performed on these studies for overall cognition and within cognitive domains. Subgroup analyses were performed taking into account risk of bias and moderating differences in study design. 13 studies met eligibility criteria for analysis. A small negative association was found between OSA and all neuropsychological outcomes combined, g=0.18(95% CI 0.04–0.32), and in memory and processing speed domains. Small case-control studies from sleep clinic populations observed the greatest associations, while larger cohort studies from community samples illustrated no association. Analysis accounting for publication bias resulted in a null overall association, g=0.02 (95%CI -0.12 to 0.16). Associations between OSA and cognition in later life are highly variable and the findings differ based on the type and setting of study. It appears some older adults may be at risk of cognitive impairments attributable to OSA; however, the risk of bias renders the evidence inconclusive. High quality research is warranted in clinically diagnosed OSA patients as well as those already experiencing neuropsychological impairment and who may be regarded at higher risk of further cognitive decline.

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Correspondence to Nathan Cross.

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This work was not supported by any project funding. N.C. is supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award and NHMRC ‘Neurosleep’ top-up funding. A.L. is supported by an NHMRC-ARC Dementia Fellowship. J.P. is partly supported by an NHMRC ‘Neurosleep’ fellowship. R.G. is supported by an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellowship.

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Cross, N., Lampit, A., Pye, J. et al. Is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Related to Neuropsychological Function in Healthy Older Adults? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Neuropsychol Rev 27, 389–402 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-017-9344-6

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  • Ageing
  • Sleep
  • OSA
  • Apnoea
  • Cognitive decline