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Cognitive deficits and accelerated brain ageing in older adults at risk for undiagnosed sleep apnea

  • Full or part time

    Prof H Dehghani
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 12, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Cognitive ageing is inevitable but numerous studies indicate a large heterogeneity in the rate of cognitive deterioration, ranging from a gradual drop in cognitive functioning to dementia. With an increasingly ageing UK population, one of the key research challenges is understanding factors associated with a risk of hastened cognitive decline. The proposed PhD project will explore whether and how undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in older adults leads to accelerated brain and cognitive ageing.

In the last few years OSA has emerged as a potentially modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly population. It has been further suggested that OSA and dementia might share several common pathomechanisms, such as cerebrovascular changes, inflammation and neurodegeneration. Despite the increasing awareness of the negative health and cognitive consequences of OSA, current statistics indicate that only a relatively small number of older adults are tested and treated for OSA.
The research addressing the mechanistic processes underlying the link between OSA and cognitive decline in older adults is only beginning to emerge. While recently published studies firmly indicate that robust structural brain changes contribute to cognitive deficits in older adults diagnosed with OSA, there is a paucity of studies exploring mechanisms underpinning the observed brain changes.

The proposed project is based on the hypothesis that cerebrovascular changes and inflammation in older adults with undiagnosed OSA result in brain atrophy underpinning accelerated brain ageing and cognitive deficits. The student working on this project will: (1) examine markers of inflammation and cerebrovascular health in older adults with poor sleep quality and/or excessive daytime sleepiness (i.e., at risk of undiagnosed OSA) who has not been previously tested for OSA, and (2) subsequently link these markers to measures of cognitive dysfunction, and accelerated brain ageing (brain changes exceeding these expected for chronological age).

Research techniques and training:
• Programing Skills (e.g., Bash, Python, Matlab, R)
• Advances statistical and machine learning analyses
• Structural and perfusion MRI
• Optical imaging methods (NIRS, for non-invasive assessment of blood vessels inside the human brain) and physiological data modelling

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP), a BBSRC funded Doctoral Training Partnership between the University of Warwick, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and Aston University and Harper Adams University. Successful candidates will start in October 2020. Full information about application process and eligibility is available via
View Website
View Website

Deadline: 12th January, 2020

***IMPORTANT*** Prior to submitting a PhD application via the University of Birmingham on-line application system, all interested candidates should first contact Dr Magda Chechlacz at .


BRALEY, T. J., DUNIETZ, G. L., CHERVIN, R. D., LISABETH, L. D., SKOLARUS, L. E. & BURKE, J. F. 2018. Recognition and Diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Older Americans. J Am Geriatr Soc, 66, 1296-1302.

CULEBRAS, A. & ANWAR, S. 2018. Sleep Apnea Is a Risk Factor for Stroke and Vascular Dementia. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep, 18, 53.

GOSSELIN, N., BARIL, A. A., OSORIO, R. S., KAMINSKA, M. & CARRIER, J. 2019. Obstructive Sleep Apnea and the Risk of Cognitive Decline in Older Adults. Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 199, 142-148.

HAYDEN, K. M., REED, B. R., MANLY, J. J., TOMMET, D., PIETRZAK, R. H., CHELUNE, G. J., YANG, F. M., REVELL, A. J., BENNETT, D. A. & JONES, R. N. 2011. Cognitive decline in the elderly: an analysis of population heterogeneity. Age and ageing, 40, 684-689.

POLSEK, D., GILDEH, N., CASH, D., WINSKY-SOMMERER, R., WILLIAMS, S. C. R., TURKHEIMER, F., LESCHZINER, G. D., MORRELL, M. J. & ROSENZWEIG, I. 2018. Obstructive sleep apnoea and Alzheimer's disease: In search of shared pathomechanisms. Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 86, 142-149.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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