New research suggests that people who have a REM sleep behavior disorder may be at greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease or dementia in later life. People with REM sleep disorder have excessive body activity such as punching, kicking, or crying out, essentially acting out their dreams.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the time of night when people typically dream.
According to researchers, more than 50 percent of people with REM sleep behavior disorder develop a neurodegenerative disease within 12 years following their initial diagnosis.
The study of 93 people showed that the chance a patient suffering from an REM sleep behavior disorder will develop a neurodegenerative disease is 17.7 per cent within five years of diagnosis, 40.6 per cent within 10 years, and 52.4 per cent within 12 years.
“These results establish a clear link and indicate that these sleep disorders could be a predictor of neurodegenerative disease,” explained one of the researchers.
“Doctors should pay close attention when following these patients, as their observations could help define the precursors of diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Lewy body dementia, or multiple system atrophy,” stated Dr. Montplaisir, principal investigator of the study.
Currently, it is difficult to diagnose these diseases with certainty before an advanced stage, as doctors lack data on warning signs. Understanding how to detect these diseases early would be of great value to clinical practice.
Although effective treatments against REM sleep behavior disorder exist, these medications do not postpone the onset of neurodegenerative disease.
REM sleep behavior disorder affects a small percentage of the population. It is characterized by a loss of the normal muscle relaxation while dreaming and is seen most often in men fifty and older. This is a specific pathology that should not be confused with insomnia, night terrors, or confusional arousals.
The results were published in the December issue of the journal Neurology.
Source: McGill University Health Centre