Association of Obstructive Sleep Apnea with Episodic Memory and Cerebral Microvascular Pathology: A Preliminary Study

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2017 Mar;25(3):316-325. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2016.11.009. Epub 2016 Nov 17.


Objectives: To evaluate the impact of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) on neurocognitive function and brain morphology in older adults with depression and cognitive impairment.

Methods: We prospectively screened OSA with the STOP-Bang questionnaire in the last 25 patients enrolled into the Donepezil Treatment of Cognitive Impairment and Depression (DOTCODE) trial. High and low probability of OSA were defined as a STOP-Bang score of ≥5 (h-OSA) and of <5 (l-OSA), respectively. Baseline magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to evaluate brain morphology. The initial 16 weeks of antidepressant treatment were part of the DOTCODE trial.

Results: After 16 weeks of antidepressant treatment, the h-OSA group performed significantly worse on the Selective Reminding Test delayed recall task than the l-OSA group, controlling for baseline performance (F = 19.1, df = 1,22, p < 0.001). In 19 of 25 participants who underwent brain MRI, the h-OSA group had significantly greater volumes of MRI hyperintensities in deep white matter, periventricular white matter, and subcortical gray matter compared with the l-OSA group. There was no significant association between OSA and hippocampal or entorhinal cortex volumes in our sample, even after controlling for intracranial volume.

Conclusions: OSA is associated with impaired verbal episodic memory and microvascular damage in older adults with depression and cognitive impairment. One possibility is that by contributing to cerebral microvascular damage, OSA may exacerbate progressive memory decline.

Keywords: MRI; Obstructive sleep apnea; depression; hippocampus; memory; older adults; white matter.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / epidemiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Comoros
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*