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Nightmares show early indicators of Parkinson’s disease: Research

by Pragati Singh

According to a recent study from the University of Birmingham, older persons who begin to have horrible dreams or nightmares may be showing the early indications of Parkinson’s disease, say experts.
A new research published in eClinicalMedicine found that among a group of older men, those who had frequent terrible nightmares were twice as likely as those who did not to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease later on. Previous research has revealed that persons with Parkinson’s disease have more nightmares and worse dreams than the general population, but utilising nightmares as a risk signal for Parkinson’s has never been addressed.

“Although it can be really beneficial to diagnose Parkinson’s disease early, there are very few risk indicators and many of these require expensive hospital tests or are very common and non-specific, such as diabetes,” said lead author Dr Abidemi Otaiku of the University’s Centre for Human Brain Health.

“While further study is needed in this area, recognising the relevance of terrible dreams and nightmares might imply that older people who suffer changes in their dreams without any evident reason should seek medical treatment.”

The researchers examined data from a large cohort study conducted in the United States that collected information from 3818 older males living alone during a 12-year period.

The males completed a variety of questionnaires at the start of the trial, one of which included a question on sleep quality.

Participants who reported having disturbing dreams at least once a week were then followed up on at the conclusion of the trial to see if they were more likely to have Parkinson’s disease.

91 Parkinson’s patients were diagnosed during the follow-up period. The researchers discovered that those who had frequent terrible nightmares were twice as likely to get the condition as those who did not. The majority of the diagnoses occurred within the first five years of the research. Participants who had frequent terrible nightmares throughout this time period were more than three times more likely to acquire Parkinson’s disease.

The findings show that older persons who will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease will likely begin having awful dreams and nightmares a few years before exhibiting the disease’s hallmark characteristics, such as tremors, stiffness, and slowness of movement.

The study also demonstrates that our dreams may offer crucial information about the structure and function of our brains, making them an interesting target for neuroscience research.

The researchers intend to investigate the biological underpinnings behind dream modifications using electroencephalography (EEG). They will also investigate if the findings can be replicated in bigger and more varied cohorts, as well as possible relationships between dreams and other neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

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