My father died a few months ago from metastatic prostate cancer. Looking back on the series of events that occurred before his death, I’m wondering if it was really from Alzheimer’s Disease aggravated by sleep apnea. Let me explain…
About 4 weeks before his death, my father was a vibrant and young 78. He took classes with undergraduates at Hunter College, performed in a musical theater group, sang in his church choir, played tennis, swam, and and went hiking up a mountain every week. He was originally diagnosed with prostate cancer over 10 years ago, but was in remission until recently, when it finally surfaced in his lower spine. He underwent radiation therapy, which was an ordeal for him, but he managed to fight through it.
One day, we got a call from the hospital ER saying that my father was admitted after begin found unconscious on the sidewalk. A CT of the brain was reported as being normal. Before this, he was completely coherent, and mentally very sharp. After this hospital admission, he kept going in and out, not being able to express himself, and not even remembering who his children were. Over the next 2 weeks, his condition deteriorated even further, and eventually passed away in a wonderful hospice, Calvary Hospital.
During his last few days, he would sometimes talk as if he were a 5 or 6 year old. He even stopped recognizing his family members. During these last two weeks, although not official, he had classic symptoms of Alzheimer’s-like dementia.
I’ve also always suspected that he had an undiagnosed sleep-breathing problem, with very loud breathing and an open mouth during sleep. We know that untreated obstructive sleep apnea can thicken your blood, making it much more viscous, and more likely to stagnate and clot. Sleep apnea patients have increased inflammatory markers such as TNF, IL-2, IL-6, and many others. Cancer is also thought to cause a hypercoagulable state. He also has two other risk factors for sleep apnea: older age and having an Asian facial structure.
Something must have happened that day when my father was walking down the street. He must have clotted or damaged a critical part of his brain that’s responsible for short term memory and face recognition. Whatever happened, it wasn’t large enough to show up on his head CT.
It’s been shown that untreated obstructive sleep apnea can cause brain damage in many different ways. This includes multiple mini-strokes throughout the brain, and lowered gray matter density in parts of the brain that includes memory, executive function, and autonomic nervous system control.
I’m convinced that all modern human’s inability to breathe properly as we get older is a major factor in how quickly we age or develop illnesses. Many of the chronic medical complications or conditions that we die from can be shown to be directly or indirectly related to sleep-breathing problems.