Prior studies have indicated that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exhibit significant cognitive defects on neuropsychological testing. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is common in patients with COPD and is associated with reduced cognitive function; however, the combined impact of these two conditions on cognitive function is unknown. The aim of the study was to investigate the impact of OSA on cognitive impairment in patients with COPD.
Sixty-five stable COPD patients aged over 60 years underwent overnight polysomnography (PSG). Global cognitive functions were evaluated using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE).
Compared to patients with COPD alone, patients with both COPD and OSA performed worse on the MMSE (25.5±2.9 vs 23.5±3.2; p=0.01) and were more likely to be at risk for developing dementia based on the MMSE score (MMSE≤24) (31% vs 66%; p<0.01), independent of key demographic, educational and medical variables known to affect cognitive function in COPD. COPD patients with an apnea hypopnea index (AHI) of ≥30 events/h had lower MMSE scores than those with an AHI of <15 events/h. In addition to age and education level, the severity of nocturnal intermittent hypoxia is an independent predictor of the risk of dementia in patients with COPD (OR=1.24, 95% CI 1.04–1.48, p = 0.02).
The current findings indicate that patients with COPD with comorbid OSA may be at greater risk for global cognitive impairment relative to patients with COPD alone. The mechanisms underlying the exaggerated cognitive dysfunction seem to be related to intermittent hypoxia. Further work is needed to understand the impact of OSA on the specific domains of cognitive impairment and the therapeutic implications of OSA in COPD.