(ORDO NEWS) — A new cohort study by scientists from the UK links the increase in the frequency of disturbing dreams and nightmares in the elderly with an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease over the next five years.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, and the rate of increase in reported cases is only accelerating over time.
Some scientists predict almost a PD pandemic associated with the aging of the world’s population and changes in environmental risk factors for the development of the disease. Given this, the global prevalence of Parkinson’s disease could well double over the next decade.
In recent years, people with PD have been shown to experience a wide range of non-motor problems (including depression, constipation, urinary dysfunction, and excessive daytime sleepiness) along with characteristic motor features such as stiffness and slowness of movement, tremors, and body instability.
Because PD remains an incurable, chronic, and rapidly progressive disease that can last for decades, identifying risk groups is a priority.
As previous studies have shown, the content of dreams significantly changes in people with PD: negative emotions and physical aggression intensify, more animal characters appear among the characters, and nightmares also become more frequent.
However, dreams have previously been considered in comparison with healthy adults in the general population, but nightmares have not been discussed as an indicator of the risk of developing PD.
The authors of the new work took information from a large cohort study conducted in the United States and containing the medical data of 3818 initially healthy older men (67 years and older) over a 12-year period.
During this period, specialists monitored a number of factors, including the quality of sleep of the participants and, in fact, the diagnosis of PD.
With an average follow-up period of just over seven years, 91 (2.4%) cases of PD were identified. The researchers found that participants who began to have frequent (more than once a week) bad, disturbing dreams and nightmares were three times more likely to develop PD over the next five years than older men with the same quality of nightly rest.
Moreover, the risk is associated precisely with the late manifestation and increase in disturbing dreams and nightmares, and not with bad dreams that torment people throughout their lives.
“Although early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can be really helpful, there are very few risk indicators, and many of them require expensive hospital tests,” explained author Dr. Abidemi Otaiku from the University of Birmingham Center for Human Brain Health (UK).
“However, we need to do further research in this area; revealing the significance of disturbing dreams and nightmares may indicate that people who experience significant changes in their dreams in old age – without any overt triggers – should seek medical attention.”
Going forward, the scientists plan to use electroencephalography (EEG) to study the biological causes of changes in sleep and replicate the results on larger and more diverse samples.
In addition, they are considering analyzing possible links between dreams and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
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