Insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea as potential triggers of dementia: is personalized prediction and prevention of the pathological cascade applicable?



Sleep disorders ultimately result in sleep deficiency and poor-quality adversely impacts the immune system, glucose metabolism, body weight control, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular function, cognitive function, psychological stability, work productivity, quality of life, and social safety. Sleep disorders are very common among the elderly and are often comorbid with other diseases such as dementia, and further accelerating the underlying neurodegenerative processes. Initial studies have not clearly revealed the relationship between sleep disorders and dementia. Nonetheless, recent findings have suggested that insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are closely associated with dementia and perhaps they could be good predictors of occurrence of dementia and optimal treatments for sleep deficiencies may prevent or delay the onset dementia.


Here, we conducted a systematic review based on the criteria of predictive, preventive, and personalized medicine on the association of dementia in elderlies with sleep disorder, namely insomnia and OSA. We included 7432 studies and analyzed a total of 14 publications after applying appropriate exclusion criteria.


We found that OSA patients had a large tendency to develop and/or experience accelerations of both Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and also vascular dementia, whereas insomnia patients only develop and/or experience accelerations of AD. This may be reflected in the fact that AD and vascular dementia have similar and at the same time also different mechanisms of action. Several studies have also revealed that treating sleep disorders in elderly patients prevented or delayed the onset of dementia, mitigating the progression of symptoms in patients who already manifested dementic symptoms and even reversing neurodegeneration in particular brain areas.


Currently, the general medical consensus has poorly addressed the role of sleep disorders in exacerbating the risk of dementia. Critically, studies such as the present one emphasizes that the treatment of sleep disorders could be one the preventive measures to evade or to improve dementia symptoms. Additionally, elderly individuals often manifest different sleep deficiency symptoms than younger ones. Given this, an improved age-specific categorization and evaluation methods for sleep deficiency need to be implemented in diagnosing dementia in order to enable personalized assessments and treatments. Collectively, these findings may also assist to improve efforts in predictively detecting and eventually treating dementia.

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This work was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) (no. 1 6 K 1 1 2 5 1) from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.

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Correspondence to Takuro Kitamura.

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Kitamura, T., Miyazaki, S., Sulaiman, H.B. et al. Insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea as potential triggers of dementia: is personalized prediction and prevention of the pathological cascade applicable?. EPMA Journal (2020).

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  • Insomnia
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Dementia
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • CPAP
  • Cognitive function
  • Predictive preventive personalized medicine