The strongest predictor of dementia may strike during sleep

The strongest predictor of dementia may strike during sleep


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Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a neurodegenerative disease characterised by abnormal deposits of proteins in the brain. It’s been shown that these deposits interfere with chemicals in the brain, which in turn can lead to problems with thinking and movement. Often, movement problems manifest decades before the condition is formally diagnosed, while a person is asleep.

In 2013, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found a strong correlation between REM sleep disorder and LBD in their database.

This led scientists to conclude that “the strongest predictor of whether a man is developing LBD is whether he acts out his dreams while sleeping”.

The report stated that “patients are five times more likely” to have LBD if they experience the condition, compared to having other risk factors such as hallucinations and fluctuating cognition.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego.

REM sleep disorder occurs as a result of the loss of formal muscle paralysis that is expected in the REM phase.

Also known as dream-enacting behaviour, sleep disorder involves acting out vivid and often unpleasant dreams.

This may manifest as sudden and unpleasant arm and leg movements or making vocal sounds, explains the Mayo Clinic.

In the REM stage of sleep – which happens many times throughout the night – the body is supposed to stay still.

The REM phase makes up approximately 20 percent of your sleep and it is typically during this sleep phase that a person dreams.

Not only does the disorder lead to lost sleep, but it may also cause injuries to individuals and their sleep partners.

“It can appear three decades or more before a diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies is made in males,” the Mayo Clinic added.

The link, however, appears to be weaker in women.

Medline Plus states that it may even be the first sign of dementia with Lewy bodies.

It’s long been known that sleep problems increase confusion and behavioural problems with LBD and add to a caregiver’s burden.

Though the data supports a strong link between the two conditions, it’s important to note that not everyone with REM sleep behaviour disorder will have LBD.

What the early research did find, however, is that as many as 75 to 80 percent of men with LBD in the Mayo database did experience REM sleep disorder.

What are the symptoms of REM sleep disorder?

Aside from making volatile movements and noises, a person with REM sleep disorder is often able to recall their dream when they awaken during an episode.

The symptoms of the disease are often confused with signs of other brain conditions or psychiatric disorders, however.

Anyone who suspects they have the condition is encouraged to speak to a doctor.

The National Institute on Ageing states: “A physician can order a sleep study to identify any underlying sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and REM sleep behaviour disorder.”

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