Could Nightmares Be An Early Indicator Of Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease is a disorder of the nervous system and brain that results in uncontrolled tremors, stiffness, and a loss of coordination, according to the National Institute of Aging (NIA). Symptoms are mild at first, but as they progress, patients may have difficulty walking and remembering. The NIA reports that the disease is caused when certain nerve cells in the brain become damaged or die. There is no cure for Parkinson's, but some medications can help reduce symptoms.

Anyone can develop Parkinson's disease, but age appears to be a risk factor. The NIA explains that most people who develop the disease are over 60 years old. A new study might shed some light on a different risk factor, though — bad dreams and nightmares. The study, published in The Lancet's eClinicalMedicine journal, followed 3,818 men 67 years old or older for 12 years. The men were not diagnosed with Parkinson's before the analysis. They also answered questions about sleep and, specifically, their dreams.

People who had more bad dreams developed Parkinson's Disease

During a mean follow-up of the study, 91 men were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. At the end of the study, 368 men reported frequent nightmares. Data also show that men who reported having bad dreams or nightmares were twice as likely to develop the disease than those who had bad dreams less than once a week. Authors of the study report that most of the Parkinson's cases were diagnosed within the first five years of the study, and the risk of those reporting nightmares during that time was three times higher. Results suggest that older people may experience bad dreams prior to being diagnosed with the disease. Researchers explained that this information might help doctors identify and treat people who are at risk long before other symptoms set in.

Authors also noted that dreams may be a key to understanding brain function, and could possibly help in the field of neuroscience. They also mentioned that while the study was large, its findings were limited because it did not include women or younger adults.