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A volunteer has special headgear fitted to monitor their sleep by a researcher as part of the Silver Santé Study project at Inserm in Caen, France.
A volunteer has special headgear fitted to monitor their sleep by a researcher as part of the Silver Santé Study project at Inserm in Caen, France.

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New study identifies brain changes which explain why sleep apnea increases risk for developing Alzheimer’s


Significant new research published today in JAMA Neurology

Researchers working on the EU-funded Silver Santé Study have identified brain changes which explain for the first time why sleep apnea increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

The research, led by Dr Géraldine Rauchs , of Inserm, in Caen, France, was published today in JAMA Neurology ( )

Dr Rauchs and her team studied the effects of sleep apnea on 127 older adults who were taking part in the Age Well clinical trial of the Silver Santé Study. The volunteers, with a mean age of 69, completed neuropsychological assessments (tests to assess how the brain is working), polysomnography (to assess sleep quality and potential sleep disorders) tests and neuroimaging scans.

Those participants with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB or types of sleep apnea) showed greater amyloid burden (protein deposits in the brain), GM volume (number of brain cells) and metabolism (how these cells use glucose for their activity) in brain areas particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s – increasing their risk of developing the disease in coming years. No association was found with cognition, self-reported cognitive and sleep difficulties or excessive daytime sleepiness symptoms.

Dr Rauchs, the paper’s author, says: “The results are very significant as although there was increased evidence suggesting sleep-disordered breathing (SBD) increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, the brain mechanisms underlying the link were unclear.

“This study shows for the first time that SBD, or sleep apnea, increases amyloid burden, GM volume and metabolism in brain areas particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, increasing the risk of these individuals developing the disease in the future. This doesn’t mean, of course, that these participants will necessarily develop Alzheimer’s – just that their risk of developing the disease in future is increased.

“Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for SDB but the results of this study re-emphasize the importance of preserving good sleep quality throughout life in order to safeguard good mental health in later life.”

The Silver Santé Study, coordinated by Dr Gaël Chételat of Inserm, France, is a 5-year €7milion research project investigating mental health in the ageing population. The project, which has 11 partners in six countries, is assessing the impact of mental training activities – such as learning and new language and practising meditation – on mental health and well-being in older adults.

It is the longest ever study of both meditation and language learning and is the first to take into account the emotional aspects of ageing and mental health as well as lifestyle factors. The project has two clinical trials: (1) Age Well – which is assessing the impact of an 18-month meditation or language-learning course on healthy older adults and expert meditators; and (2) SCD Well – examining the impact of an 8 week course of meditation or health education on memory clinic patients.

The results of the Silver Santé Study’s two clinical trials are due to be released later this year.

For more information about the study visit

ENDS/ Contacts & Notes follow

Media contact: Charlotte Reid at Minerva +44 (0)1264-326427

Editor’s notes:

  • 1.The Silver Santé is the public name for the Medit-Ageing project.
  • 2.The call under which Medit-Ageing has been successfully funded is H2020-PHC-22: Promoting mental well-being in the ageing population
  • 3.The project receives €7million funding and runs for 5 years from Jan 2016 - Dec 2020.
  • 4.The partners in Medit-Ageing are:

Partner organisation name Short name Country Contact
Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale Inserm France Dr Gaël Chételat Project co-ordinator Dr Antoine Lutz

Dr Hélène Esperou

Dr Géraldine Poisnel

University of Liege (GIGA-CRC-In Vivo Imaging; Psychology and Neuroscience of Cognition Research Unit) ULG Belgium Dr Fabienne Collette Professor Eric Salmon
University of Geneva (Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences, Campus Biotech) UNIGE Switzerland Dr Olga Klimecki Professor Patrik Vuilleumier
University College London UCL UK Dr Natalie Marchant
University of Exeter UNEXE UK Dr Thorsten Barnhofer
University of Cologne UKK Germany Professor Frank Jessen
Hospices Civils de Lyon (Clinical and Research Memory Centre of Lyon) HCL France Professor Pierre Krolak-Salmon
Consorci Institut d’Investigacions biomèdiques August Pi I Sunyer (Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders Unit; Hospital Clinic; Neurodegenerative diseases: Clinical and experimental research) IDIBAPS Spain Dr Jose Luis Molinuevo
European Clinical Research Infrastructures Network ECRIN EU Amélie Michon
Inserm Transfert SA IT France Delphine Smagghe
Minerva Health & Care Communications UK Ltd Minerva UK Rhonda Smith, Director

4. There are nine work packages in the study:

Work Package Lead partner Institution & Country
1 Meditation Dr Antoine Lutz Inserm, France
2 Lifestyle Dr Julie Gonneaud Inserm, France
3 Attention Dr Fabienne Collette University of Liege, Belgium
4 Emotion Dr Olga Klimecki University of Geneva, Switzerland
5 Cognition & Well-being Dr Natalie Marchant University College London, UK
6 Biomarkers Dr Gaël Chételat Inserm, France
7 Coordination & Management Dr Géraldine Poisnel Inserm, France
8 Communication Rhonda Smith Minerva Communications UK Ltd
9 Clinical Trial Dr Hélène Esperou Inserm, France



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