How Can Midlife Stress in Women Cause Dementia?

In my last post, I described a Swedish study which explained how low testosterone could be caused by obstructive sleep apnea. In another Swedish study, midlife stress was shown to be associated with significantly higher levels of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These stresses included workplace problems, serious illness, divorce, and widowhood. Alzheimer’s developed in 21% of women who were followed for an average of 38 years.

We know from another study that 60% of Swedish women over aged 60 has obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is known to cause major brain damage, which can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Is it possible that underlying untreated obstructive sleep apnea could have aggravated some of these midlife stresses (and illnesses), as well to cause later development of dementia?

There are lots of studies that show a strong link between brain damage and untreated obstructive sleep apnea. However, there has yet to be a study published showing that treating obstructive sleep apnea can prevent or delay dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. That study will deserve the Nobel Prize.

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One thought on “How Can Midlife Stress in Women Cause Dementia?

  1. It is interesting that they find this in the “low D hormone (A.K.A. Vitamin D)” land of high latitude (so low UVB exposure) found in Sweden. Perhaps our ability to handle stress relates directly to how well we stress our skin with sun exposure.

    I have found that stress affects my breathing stability (more stress less breathing stability).

    I have often wondered if Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) might be a way by which our body tries to deal with breathing instability. Breathing instability happens when the “gain” of the breathing control servo feedback system is too high. It results in times of breathing too little and too much. During the “breathing too much” times hypocapnia and arousals are likely.

    When breathing stability issues result in arousal the stress hormones are ramped up. This likely raises the gain of the breathing control servo feedback system and so increases breathing instability. This likely becomes a vicious circle. If OSA occurs then at least there is a time when recovery from hypocapnia can occur. I am also suspicious that the increased circulation during hypercapnia tends to stabilize the breathing control systems. If I do wake up breathing much more than I should be I find that the crazy urge to breath too much goes away after I apply techniques which reduce breathing volume for a minute to two minutes. This happens very consistently. If I do not apply the techniques the urge to breath too much will take from ten minutes to days to go away.

    When most look at OSA they see the oxygen desaturations and look at low oxygen levels as a possible cause of problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But the brain is also particularly affected during times of hypocapnea. Either of too little oxygen or too little carbon dioxide can cause loss of consciousness as both affect oxygen transport to the brain cells. So I think that either could be involved in the development of these diseases.

    Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and variants can sometimes treat OSA, however, they tend to exacerbate breathing stability problems. I think it will take a treatment that deals not only with obstruction but also breathing stability to treat OSA well enough to foster good brain health.