BOSTON (CBS) — A new study from the Mayo Clinic finds that people with sleep apnea may have higher accumulations of a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease in their brains.

People with obstructive sleep apnea stop breathing periodically while sleeping which can cause a variety of health issues.

Researchers looked at 288 people over 65 without dementia. Those whose bed partners said they stopped breathing while sleeping had a 4 1/2 percent higher level of tau in their brains than people without witnessed sleep apnea. Tau is a protein that clumps in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s which contributes to memory loss.

Researchers say it’s still not clear whether the sleep apnea causes tau to build-up or whether the build-up of tau in the brain causes sleep apnea. That will have to be teased out with longer studies.

Dr. Mallika Marshall