Scientists from the University of Birmingham found older adults who start to experience bad dreams or nightmares could be exhibiting the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease.
They found that in older men, those experiencing frequent bad dreams were twice as likely to be later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
The research is published in eClinicalMedicine and was conducted by Dr. Abidemi Otaiku et al.
Previous studies have shown that people with Parkinson’s disease experience nightmares and bad dreams more frequently than adults in the general population, but using nightmares as a risk indicator for Parkinson’s has not previously been considered.
In the study, the team used data from a large cohort study from the U.S., which contained data over a period of 12 years from 3818 older men living independently.
At the beginning of the study, the men completed a range of questionnaires, one of which included a question about sleep quality.
Participants reporting bad dreams at least once per week were then followed up at the end of the study to see whether they were more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
During the follow-up period, 91 cases of Parkinson’s were diagnosed.
The researchers found that participants experiencing frequent bad dreams were twice as likely to develop the disease compared to those who did not.
Most of the diagnoses happened in the first five years of the study. Participants with frequent bad dreams during this period were more than three times as likely to go on to develop Parkinson’s.
The results suggest that older adults who will one day be diagnosed with Parkinson’s are likely to begin experiencing bad dreams and nightmares a few years before developing the characteristic features of Parkinson’s, 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 may prove to be an important target for neuroscience research.
The researchers plan to use electroencephalography (EEG) to look at the biological reasons for dream changes.
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