Certain dreams as a child could raise risk of dementia and Parkinson’s

Parkinson's: What is it and what are the symptoms?

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It is widely accepted that our health can be influenced by various factors throughout our lives. Certain lifestyle habits, such as your diet and whether or not you exercise regularly could raise your risk of certain conditions, for example. Now a study has found that the types of dreams you experience as a child could also have an effect on your future wellbeing.

The research, published in The Lancet, revealed that having “distressing” dreams could make you vulnerable to Parkinson’s disease and dementia later in life.

More specifically, children who were reported as experiencing persistent bad dreams or night terrors were 85 percent more likely to develop cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s by the age of 50.

As part of the study, data from the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study was analysed.

Information on distressing dreams was given by the children’s mothers at ages seven (in 1965) and 11 (in 1969).

Cognitive impairment and Parkinson’s disease at age 50 (in 2008) were then determined by a cognitive assessment and a doctor’s diagnosis respectively.

Of the 6,991 children included in the study 267 (3.8 percent) developed cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s at the age of 50

The study explained: “After adjustment for all covariates, having more regular distressing dreams during childhood was linearly and statistically significantly associated with higher risk of developing cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s disease by age 50.

“Compared with children who never had distressing dreams (no time point), children who had persistent distressing dreams (two time points) had an 85 percent increased risk of developing cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s disease by age 50.”

The findings come after previous studies showed adults who experience weekly distressing dreams have a more than two-fold risk of developing dementia or Parkinson’s disease, compared to those who rarely do.

The study added: “Additionally, there is evidence that having regular distressing dreams during middle adulthood, may be associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s disease several decades later.

“Given that distressing dream frequency is a relatively stable trait from early childhood to middle adulthood, this raises the possibility that having regular distressing dreams as a child, may be a very early indicator of dementia and Parkinson’s disease risk.”

Researchers believed there could be three possible reasons for the link between dreams and these conditions.

The first is that distressing dreams in some individuals could be an early manifestation of age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia with Lewy bodies or Alzheimer’s disease.

This is because these occur as a result of neurodegeneration in right frontal brain regions that are required for down regulating negative emotions during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

The second theory is that there could be genetic factors that predispose individuals to distressing dreams and to dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Or the third is that distressing dreams could be a “causal” risk factor for cognitive impairment and Parkinson’s disease.

The study concluded that the findings could hold the key for future treatment of both dementia and Parkinson’s.

It said: “In summary, this study provides evidence for the first time that having distressing dreams during childhood, may be associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s during adulthood.

“Furthermore, these findings raise the possibility that distressing dreams may be an independent risk factor for neurodegeneration.

“If these findings are replicated in future studies, and the association is confirmed to be causal, it is possible that early treatment of distressing dreams could become a primary prevention strategy for dementia and Parkinson’s disease.”

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