Bad dreams frequency could be Parkinson’s risk indicator, suggests study
10 Jun 2022
Older adults who start to experience bad dreams might be exhibiting the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease, a new study concludes.
The University of Birmingham said that analysis of a study of a cohort of older men suggested that individuals who frequently suffered bad dreams were twice as likely to be later diagnosed with Parkinson’s as the remainder of the group.
While past studies have demonstrated that Parkinson’s sufferers tend to have more frequent bad dreams than other adults, using nightmares as a risk indicator for Parkinson’s had not previously been examined said the academic who led the project.
Dr Abidemi Otaiku, of the university’s Centre for Human Brain Health who was the study’s lead author, said: “While we need to carry out further research in this area, identifying the significance of bad dreams and nightmares could indicate that individuals who experience changes to their dreams in older age – without any obvious trigger – should seek medical advice.”
“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.”
The data derived from a large cohort study from the USA published in eClinicalMedicine, covered 12 years and interviewed 3818 older men living independently.
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.
In all, 91 cases of Parkinson’s were diagnosed and the Birmingham 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 occurred in the first five years; those with frequent bad dreams during the period were more than three times as likely to go on to develop Parkinson’s.
The authors added that the results suggested that older adults who will one day be diagnosed with Parkinson’s are likely to begin experiencing bad drams and nightmares a few years before developing characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as tremors, stiffness and slowness of movement.
They added that the study showed dreams could reveal important information about brain structure and function that would be a useful target for neuroscience research.
The Birmingham researchers plan to use electroencephalography (EEG) to detect biological reasons for dream changes and also intend to examine larger and more diverse cohorts and explore possible links between dreams and other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.