A certain sleep disorder called rapid eye movement (REM) has been linked to Parkinson’s disease – research says. But what characterizes this sleep disorder and can its presence be a good sign of Parkinson’s disease?
NIH (National Institute of Health) data indicate that approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. learn that they have Parkinson’s disease every year. Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition, which affects someone’s motor function and exposes such person to other neurodegenerative issues like Alzheimer’s disease.
Although researchers are yet to fully understand the real causes of Parkinson’s disease, they have identified some risk factors that can cause someone to develop this condition.
Some of the risk factors include sex and age of a person as well as genetic factors. Still, it is a challenge to establish who is likely to develop Parkinson’s disease at a point in life.
However, a team of researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada has studied a sleep disorder known as REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) and found that it could be a great predictor of risk.
The sleep disorder is known as RBD because it occurs during the REM phase of sleep, in which the body becomes effectively paralyzed. The inability to move prevents someone from physically acting out of a dream that one may be experiencing and thus stops one from potentially harming self and others.
People living with RDB don’t have this paralysis, which means they end up acting their dreams without knowing they are doing so.
Studies have shown that several people with RBD go on to develop Parkinson’s, so the team of researchers at McGill University decided to find out if RBD diagnosis could predict Parkinson’s risk accurately.
The lead author Dr. Ron Postuma and his colleague say, establishing that this sleep disorder is a great predictor of Parkinson’s could, in the future help specialists to identify people at risk and offer them experimental therapies that could prevent or delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
Sleep disorder predicts risk
In order to establish the strength of the connection between the two conditions, the researchers worked with 1,280 people living with REM sleep behavior disorder across the International RBD Study Group 24 centers.
The researchers assessed the sensory abilities, cognitive abilities and motor function of the participants for a number of years. After 12 years follow-up period, the researchers found that 73.5% of the people involved in the study had developed Parkinson’s disease.
Also, participants who had begun experiencing motor function problems in this period had a threefold increase in the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and related conditions like dementia with Lewy bodies.
Moreover, participants who had developed cognitive impairment or have problems with their sense of smell are at high risk.
This study confirmed that RBD is a strong predictor of Parkinson’s disease. Since the researchers conducted the research in centers across Asia, Europe and North America, it means that the results apply to diverse populations.
The bottom line
Parkinson’s disease is fast becoming common among people, which is why scientists are working to find the solution to prevent it or treat it. Once you discover you are suffering from a REM sleep disorder, visit your doctor to know the next thing to do.
Do you have a REM sleep disorder? Or you already have Parkinson’s disease? Tell us how it started.