Danish researchers have discovered that very early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may emerge in part of the sleep cycle.
“In the study, we saw that eight years before diagnosis, Parkinson’s sufferers exhibited work and health indications that something was wrong,” said Poul Jennum, M.D., professor of clinical neurophysiology at the University of Copenhagen.
Among the very early symptoms is the sleep disorder RBD, or REM sleep behavior disorder.
REM is a particular stage of sleep in which we dream, and our eyes flicker rapidly behind our eyelids, hence the term REM, or Rapid Eye Movement.
To prevent us from actually acting out our dreams, the body usually shuts down our muscle movement during REM sleep, but in RBD it is still active, and REM sleepers with RBD display a range of behaviours from simple arm and leg spasms to kicking, shouting, seizing or jumping out of bed.
“In some cases their behavior may be violent and result in injuries to the patients or their partners,” Jennum said.
The study is found in the Journal of Neurology.
“Our hypothesis is that the very earliest stages of Parkinson’s disease show up as various other diseases such as RBD,” Jennum said.
In recent years, great advances have been made in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, but therapies are lacking to mitigate the later symptoms, costs and increased mortality of the disease.
“This may become possible if we are able to intervene earlier, and if we are able to find clear indications of Parkinson’s disease eight years sooner than we are now, this may give us an important tool.
“The question is of course whether we can actually say that RBD is always a very early marker for Parkinson’s disease. That is what we are now investigating at the Sleep Centre at Glostrup Hospital,” said Jennum.
Not surprisingly, the study showed that Parkinson’s sufferers have more contact with health care services, are more often unemployed, more often on benefits, and on average cost the health service 50,000 kroner (about $1,000) a year more than healthy control subjects.
For the study, researchers used the National Patient Register to identify all the patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease between 1997 and 2007. Some 13,700 patients were compared to 53,600 healthy patients of the same sex, social class, and educational background.
Source: University of Copenhagen