Cognitive function in the sleep apnea/hypopnea syndrome (SAHS)

H M Engleman, R N Kingshott, S E Martin, N J Douglas
Sleep 2000 June 15, 23: S102-8
The magnitude, determinants and reversibility of cognitive deficits associated with the sleep apnea/hypopnea syndrome (SAHS) are of clinical and research interest. A quantitative overview of impairment effect sizes (ESs) from case-control studies of cognitive performance in SAHS suggests that deficits broadly worsen with disease severity, with large average values for attentional (ES approximately 1.0 SD units) and executive (ES approximately 0.9 SD units) cognitive scores, and moderate values for memory-related (ES approximately 0.6 SD units) performance scores. A study of determinants of cognitive outcomes conducted in 150 patients with SAHS (AHI 5+ and > or =2 symptoms) showed significant but weak associations between a cognitive 'intellectual ability' component score (CS) and both AHI (r=-0.14) and minimum oxygen saturation (r = 0.15), linking increasing disease severity with poorer performance. A somewhat stronger correlation between a cognitive 'response slowing' CS and a 'wakefulness' CS was observed (r=-0.34). That sleepiness as well as hypoxemia might contribute to cognitive deficit has also been suggested by experimental sleep fragmentation in normals, producing small to moderate impairments (average ES approximately 0.3 SD units) in attention-biased scores. The reversibility of attentional cognitive deficits has been investigated through a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled crossover studies of CPAP treatment, involving 98 SAHS patients (AHI 5+ and > or =2 symptoms). While cognitive outcomes showed at least trends towards better performance on CPAP than on placebo (p< or =0.1), the ESs of cognitive enhancements following CPAP were small (average ES approximately 0.2 SD units). This may be due either to the relatively mild study population, suboptimal CPAP use or to an irreversible component in cognitive impairment in SAHS.

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