Scientists can tell from age SEVEN if a child will grow up to have dementia… by how often they have nightmares
- Researchers at University of Birmingham, UK, tracked 7,000 children in England
- Those with ‘persistent’ nightmares were nearly twice as likely to get dementia
- READ MORE: Nightmares in 40s and 50s may be dementia warning sign
Persistent nightmares from the age of seven could predict dementia later in life, a study suggests.
In research that tracked 7,000 people from birth to age 50, a team at the University of Birmingham, in the UK, found those who has persistent nightmares as children are twice as likely to develop dementia.
They are also seven-fold more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Scientists said that night terrors early in life could disrupt sleep, which over time raises the build-up of damaging proteins in the brain that could cause dementia.
Reducing children’s likelihood of suffering nightmares – whether with a nightlight, a consistent routine or giving them a stuffed toy to cuddle – can have great long term benefits for their brain.
Children who regularly experience nightmares when they are just seven years old may be more likely to develop dementia in later life, a study suggests
Scientists have long known bad dreams in mid-life and older age could be a warning sign of cognitive decline.
But this study, published in eClinicalMedicine on Sunday, suggests the link stretches back to early childhood.
Birmingham researchers analyzed data from the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study.
The data tracked children born in the week starting March 3, 1958, in England up to their 50th birthday in 2008.
Mothers were quizzed whether their children had ‘bad dreams or night terrors’ in the past three months when they were seven and 11 years old.
Children whose parents said they had nightmares at night at both times were defined as having persistent nightmares.
Youngsters were then monitored up to 2008 for a diagnosis of cognitive impairment — such as dementia — or Parkinson’s disease.
Nightmares in your 40s or 50s may be a dementia warning sign
Researchers say bad dreams become common in the years — and potentially even decades — before memory loss kicks in.
Of the 7,000 people in the study, 268 — four percent — had persistent bad dreams in early life.
Among these, 17 — six percent — developed cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s disease by the time they turned 50.
For comparison, among the 5,470 who did not have nightmares, only 199 — or 3.6 percent — went on to develop dementia.
Analysis was done by adjusting the results for age, sex, mothers’ age at birth, number of siblings and other confounding factors.
But results showed those with persistent bad dreams were 76 percent more likely to develop cognitive impairment and 640 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s.
This pattern was similar for both boys and girls.
It was not clear why bad dreams could be a warning sign of dementia and Parkinson’s.
But previous research has linked it to changes in brain structures putting someone at higher risk of cognitive disease.
Others have suggested that those facing bad dreams have poor sleep quality, which could lead to a gradual build-up of proteins associated with dementia.
Abidemi Otaiku, a junior doctor and neurologist who led the study, said it might be down to genetics, with one scientifically named PTPRJ linked to bad dreams and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.
He wrote in The Conversation: ‘These results suggest that having regular bad dreams and nightmares during childhood may increase the risk of developing progressive brain diseases like dementia or Parkinson’s disease later in life.
‘They also raise the intriguing possibility that reducing bad dream frequency during early life could be an early opportunity to prevent both conditions.’
He added: ‘Being aware that bad dreams in childhood may signal a higher risk of dementia or Parkinson’s later in life suggests that there could be a window of opportunity to implement simple strategies to lower those risks.’
Dementia is an umbrella term for cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disease.
Scientists are not clear on the cause, but it has been linked to a build-up of toxic proteins in the brain.
About 7million Americans have dementia, but this figure is expected to spike to 12million by the year 2040.
Rising rates of obesity, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles have all been linked to the surge in cases.
WHAT IS PARKINSON’S DISEASE AND WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Broadcaster Jeremy Paxman has revealed he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but what are the causes and symptoms, and how is it treated?
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects parts of the brain.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS says there are three major symptoms, including tremors or shaking, slowness of movement and muscle stiffness.
Other symptoms include problems with balance, loss of smell, nerve pain, excessive sweating and dizziness.
Some people can also experience lack of sleep, excessive production of saliva and problems swallowing, causing malnutrition and dehydration.
What are the early signs?
Symptoms start gradually, sometimes beginning with a barely noticeable tremor in just one part of the body.
In the early stages, people may show little or no expression, and their arms may not swing when they walk.
Speech can also become soft or slurred, with the condition worsening over time.
What are the causes?
Scientists believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors are the cause of Parkinson’s disease.
It occurs after a person experiences loss of nerve cells in a part of their brain.
However, it is not known why the loss of nerve cells associated with the condition takes place.
Scientists say genetics cause about 10 to 15% of Parkinson’s, and can therefore run in families.
Other factors attributed to causing the condition include environmental problems such as pollution, though such links are inconclusive, the NHS says.
How is it diagnosed?
No tests can conclusively show if a person has the disease, but doctors can make a diagnosis based on symptoms, medical history and a physical examination.
A specialist will ask the person to write or draw, walk or speak to check for any common signs of the condition.
They may even check for difficulty making facial expressions and slowness of limb movement.
How many people are affected?
Around 145,000 people live with Parkinson’s disease in the UK.
Can it be treated?
Although there is no cure, a number of treatments are available to help reduce the symptoms.
The three main remedies include medication, exercise and therapy, which can help people in different ways.
What medication is available and what are the side effects?
Medication can be helpful in improving the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as shaking and movement problems.
There are three main types that are commonly used, levodopa, dopamine agonist or a MAO-B inhibitor.
Each can affect people in different ways.
The drugs do have some side effects, including impulsive and compulsive behavior, hallucinations, sleep issues and blood pressure changes.
What therapy is available?
There are several therapies available to those with Parkinson’s through the NHS.
Among them is physiotherapy to reduce muscle stiffness, occupational therapy to help with completing day-to-day tasks and speech and language coaching.
Does this change the way you live?
Most people’s life expectancy will not change a great deal, though more advanced symptoms can lead to increased disability and poor health.
It can also cause some cognitive issues and changes to mood and mental health.
Those with Parkinson’s are encouraged to exercise more often, with scientists saying 2.5 hours of exercise a week is enough to slow the progression of symptoms.
Parkinson’s affects one in 500 people and causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.
It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.
Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because the nerve cells that make it have died.
There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.
The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.
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