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Dental Device for Snoring May Slow Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease

A happy elderly man and his family smiling at the camera.

Center for BrainHealth

DALLAS (November 30, 2021) – A good night’s sleep plays an essential role in regulating brain health by removing the waste material and toxins that accumulate. Although many things can disturb sleep, one of the most common causes is snoring or other breathing issues that cause obstructive sleep apnea. A team of researchers from Center for BrainHealth® at The University of Texas at Dallas and Texas A&M University sought to understand the relationship between breathing rate during sleep and cognitive function, and how a snoring intervention affects brain health. The findings were published recently in Geriatrics by the team that included BrainHealth researchers Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, chief director; Namrata Das, PhD, MD, MPH, a research neuroscientist in Alzheimer's disease; and Jeffrey Spence, PhD, director of biostatistics. Lead researcher Preetam Schramm, PhD, a Visiting Scholar at Texas A&M University, designed the interventional study and provided the sleep science expertise. The team discovered that maximum breathing rate can be used to distinguish healthy individuals from people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The researchers also found that a dental device to reduce snoring improves cognitive function in individuals who suffer from mild cognitive impairment. The team’s pilot study included 18 individuals in three groups (controls=5, MCI=7, AD=9) aged 55-85 with a history of snoring. To examine how breathing rate relates to an individual’s cognitive function, participants slept at home while portable recorders collected data on their breathing rate, heart rate and snoring. Clinicians from Center for BrainHealth assessed the participants’ memory, executive function, and attention. The team found that the maximum breathing rate during uninterrupted periods of sleep can differentiate healthy individuals from individuals with either Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. “We saw three distinct breathing patterns (respiratory start, respiratory rate maximum and derived respiratory rate fluctuations) amongst the groups of people, meaning we can look for a breathing pattern that might predispose individuals to having dementia,” said Emet Schneiderman, PhD, a co-author on the study and Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University College of Dentistry. Determining breathing rate is cheaper and faster than other existing assessments for measuring an individual’s cognitive function and could be an effective testing alternative.
This figure shows changes in cognitive assessment scores for individuals in each group (CN=cognitively normal, MCI=mild cognitive impairment, AD=Alzheimer’s disease) at the start of the study and after 4 weeks.

This figure shows changes in cognitive assessment scores for individuals in each group (CN=cognitively normal, MCI=mild cognitive impairment, AD=Alzheimer’s disease) at the start of the study and after 4 weeks.

The researchers also looked at whether the myTAP oral appliance, which snaps into the mouth at night to prevent snoring, affects breathing rate and cognitive function. For four weeks, participants wore the device at night and snoring decreased. After the intervention period, cognitive function – especially in the domain of memory – no longer differed between healthy individuals and individuals with mild cognitive impairment. This suggests better sleep improves cognition in individuals with mild cognitive impairment. “If we can make significant changes for individuals with mild cognitive impairment, we can slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Das, now a postdoctoral fellow at McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School. The team hypothesized that the Alzheimer's group would improve cognitive performance, but the overall results in this group were insignificant after the treatment. Because some of the AD subjects did show improvement in cognitive functions, further work is required to determine which individuals benefit versus those who do not, and why. Alzheimer's disease is multifactorial, with sleep disturbances linked to its pathology. A growing body of research in Alzheimer's is focused on finding alternative therapeutic or nontherapeutic interventions that could potentially slow the process of cognitive decline in aging. The preliminary findings from this study suggest that reducing snoring has an association with improved cognition – promising, but with limitations given the small sample size. A more extensive longitudinal study is planned to expand on these initial findings in the future. CONTACT Stephanie Hoefken 972.883.3221 stephanie.hoefken@utdallas.eduABOUT CENTER FOR BRAINHEALTH Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, is a translational research institute committed to enhancing, preserving, and restoring brain health across the lifespan. Major research areas include the use of functional and structural neuroimaging techniques to better understand the neurobiology supporting cognition and emotion in health and disease. This leading-edge scientific exploration is translated quickly into practical innovations to improve how people think, work and live, empowering people of all ages to unlock their brain potential. Translational innovations build on Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Tactics (SMART™), a proprietary methodology developed and tested by BrainHealth researchers and other teams over three decades.

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Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD

Chief Director Dee Wyly Distinguished Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences Co-Leader, The BrainHealth Project

Jeffrey S. Spence, PhD

Director of Biostatistics

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