Bad dreams and nightmares could be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease, according to new research

Bad dreams and nightmares could be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease, according to new research

Bad dreams and nightmares could be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease, according to new research

Every night when we go to sleep, we spend a few hours in a virtual world created by our brains in which we are the protagonist of an unfolding story that we have not consciously created. In other words, we dream.

For most people, dreams are mostly pleasant, sometimes negative, often bizarre, but rarely terrifying. That is, if they are remembered at all. But for about 5% of people, very memorable and terrifying nightmares (bad dreams that wake you up) happen weekly or even at night.

Recent studies have shown that people with Parkinson’s disease are more likely to have bad dreams and nightmares than people without the disease. Studies suggest that between 17% and 78% of people with Parkinson’s have weekly nightmares.

A study I conducted in 2021 found that people recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and experiencing recurring dreams with “aggressive or action-packed” content had a faster disease progression in the years following their diagnosis, compared to people without aggressive dreams. . As such, alongside similar studies, my research strongly suggests that the dreams of people with Parkinson’s can predict future health outcomes.

This made me wonder if the dreams of people who don’t have Parkinson’s can also predict future health outcomes? My latest study, published in The Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine journal, shows they can. In particular, it showed that developing frequent bad dreams or nightmares in old age can be an early warning sign of approaching Parkinson’s disease in otherwise healthy people.

I analyzed data from a large US study of 12 years of data from 3,818 elderly men who lived independently. At the start of the study, the men completed a series of questionnaires, including one about bad dreams.

The participants who reported bad dreams at least once a week were then followed for an average of seven years at the end of the study to see if they were more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

During this period, 91 people were diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Those who reported frequent nightmares at the start of the study were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s as those who had them less than weekly.

Intriguingly, a significant portion of the diagnoses occurred during the first five years of the study. During this period, the participants with frequent bad dreams were more than three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.

years before

These results suggest that older adults who are one day diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a few years before developing the hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s, may experience bad dreams and nightmares, including tremors, stiffness and slowness of movement.

The study also shows that our dreams can reveal important information about our brain structure and function and prove to be an important target for neuroscience research.

However, it is important to emphasize that only 16 of the 368 men with frequent bad dreams in this study developed Parkinson’s. Because Parkinson’s is a relatively rare condition, it is unlikely that most people who have frequent bad dreams will ever develop the disease.

Still, the finding may be important for those who have other known risk factors for Parkinson’s, such as excessive daytime sleepiness or constipation. Being aware that frequent bad dreams and nightmares (especially when they come on suddenly later in life) can be an early indicator of Parkinson’s can lead to earlier diagnoses and earlier treatment. One day, doctors may even be able to intervene to stop the development of Parkinson’s disease.

My team now plans to use electroencephalography (a technique to measure brain waves) to look at the biological reasons for dream changes in people with Parkinson’s. This may help us identify treatments that can simultaneously treat bad dreams, as well as delay or prevent the onset of Parkinson’s in people at risk of developing the condition.The conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.