Having nightmares is common. However, they occur regularly It can be the warning sign that something is wrong inside us, such as having excess stress. Although this problem is not trivial, bad dreams can also be a sign of something more serious. It appears, according to new research, that they could be an early sign of cognitive decline and dementia.
This is assured by a study published in eClinicalMedicine (a header of The Lancet) and carried out by professionals from the University of Birmingham. According to their results, adults who suffer from nightmares at least once a week have up to four times more likely to develop cognitive impairment throughout their lives.
This has been concluded through the follow-up for 13 years of a group of 605 adults healthy middle-aged (mean age 50 years), who reported their sleep quality through a self-report questionnaire. Likewise, another group of analyzes was included. this time of 2,600 adults healthy elderly (mean 83 years). In his case, the results were more alarming: the nightmares were related to the double the odds of being diagnosed with dementia in subsequent years.
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“We know that neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease often have an onset long before a patient is diagnosed, and in some people, bad dreams and nightmares can be one of the first signs“, he explained to The Guardian Abidemi Otaiku, a neurologist at the University’s Center for Human Brain Health and principal investigator of the research.
Relationship with Parkinson’s
Indeed, Parkinson’s has been another of the neurodegenerative ailments associated with nightmares. In fact, Dr. Otaiku published in the same magazine last June a study that he had managed to find evidence among people who frequently have bad dreams and said disorder. As he concluded, they possessed andtwice as likely to suffer from the disease.
At the time, the study generated some debate among the neurological community. As experts consulted by this means warned, there was a lack of data to develop in the investigation, for example, if the nightmares were connected to the REM sleep behavior disordera problem that generates vivid and violent dreams and that has been studied as one of the first manifestations neurological problems such as Parkinson’s.
With the issue of dementia, the same thing happens again. Carles Gaig, neurologist at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona and member of the Cognition and Sleep working group of the Spanish Sleep Society (SES) explains to EL ESPAÑOL that, in line with the above, the nightmares that the research talks about could be related to REM sleep behavior disorder, which is linked to both Parkinson’s and some dementias, such as Lewy body dementia.
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“People with REM sleep behavior disorder often have nightmares in which they argue and fight“, exemplifies the neurologist, who highlights that one of the peculiarities of this problem is that the patient is not paralyzed during the REM phase, which would be normal, but rather it can be movedso they usually punch and kick on the bed, as if they were really in an aggressive brawl.
an early symptom
According to Gaig, approximately 50% of patients with dementia with Lewy bodies has this sleep problem, something that is corroborated by data from the 2006 study published by a team from the Barcelona Clinic in The Lancet Neurology.
Eight years later, the same researchers expanded their findings over time and found that the odds of having a neurodegenerative problem, at the time of diagnosis of REM sleep behavior disorder, are 33% at five years, 76% at ten years and 91% at 14 years.
These data would explain why nightmares, in the case of being caused by REM sleep disorder, are an early symptom of the development of dementia and Parkinson’s over the years. “In the end, Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies They are the samethey share the same lesions, but their symptoms are different”, explains the expert.
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Lewy body dementia is the second most common cause of dementia, after Alzheimer’s, and affects first and foremost memory. It is caused by the abnormal buildup of Lewy bodies in the parts of the brain that control memory, thought, and movement. It is not yet known why such deposits form, but they are known to involve the alpha synuclein proteinalso related to the development of Parkinson’s.
“We, at the Clinic, published a Article in The Lancet Neurology in which we detected that 90% of patients with REM sleep behavior disorder who had not yet developed typical symptoms of Parkinson’s or dementia with Lewy bodies, already had an abnormal presence of this protein”, recalls Gaig.
With this, the neurologist wants the alarm not to spread and to clarify that sleep problems are not a risk factor for dementia. Don’t have nightmares and you won’t have dementia. That’s not. the bad dreams —always in the context of REM sleep behavior disorder— son one more symptom of dementia and Parkinson’s, which could be used as a factor to anticipate the more advanced stages of the condition and initiate treatment.
“Right now we don’t have any treatment to stop these diseases, but we have to be optimistic and think that in the next few years we will have it. Meanwhile, we have to monitor the symptoms and do it very early, because that way you can start with symptomatic treatmentswhich are also very effective”, concludes the expert.