Nightmares could be the earliest sign of Parkinson’s, research reveals.
Experts found older men were twice as likely to be diagnosed with the condition after they started experiencing bad dreams.
Lead researcher Dr. Abidemi Otaiku, from Birmingham University’s Centre for Human Brain Health, said: “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.
“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.”
The study, published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, followed 3,818 older men for 12 years.
Researchers found participants experiencing frequent bad dreams were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s compared to those who did not.
The nightmares occurred several years before the most common symptoms of the disease, such as tremors.
There are currently no conclusive checks for Parkinson’s, which affects 145,000 Brits and has no cure.
The progressive neurological condition leads brain cells to die, causing a lack of the chemical dopamine, which acts as a messenger to coordinate movement.
The three main symptoms are involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body, slow movement, and stiff and inflexible muscles.
Dr. Katherine Fletcher, Research Communications Manager at Parkinson’s UK, said: “We know that many people with Parkinson’s experience sleep and night-time problems.
“Previous studies have shown the dreams of people with Parkinson’s can include more aggressive content, being overall more vivid and nightmarish, than those of people without the condition. There is also evidence that bad dreams might be associated with later cognitive decline.
“This new study provides further evidence that changes to sleep might be an early sign of Parkinson’s, in this case linking bad dreams to increased risk of people going on to develop the condition.
“The more that is known about the earliest signs of the condition and how the brain might be changing, the closer research will get to better treatments and a cure.”