A study by the University of Birmingham, UK, shows that adults over 40 years of age who have frequent nightmares are more likely to suffer from dementia, compared to those who do not have nightmares regularly. The discovery was published on Wednesday 21 in the journal eClinicalMedicine.
Scientists believe that nightmares may be a consequence of neurodegeneration of the right frontal lobe, located at the front of the brain. The discovery can help doctors and patients identify the disease in its early stages, which may contribute to strategies to slow the progression of the problem and the appearance of more severe signs.
“Very few risk indicators for dementia can be identified in middle age,” said neurologist Abidemi Otaiku, the study’s lead author. “While more work needs to be done to confirm these links, we believe that nightmares can be a useful way to identify high-risk individuals.”
The survey, which had the participation of 3,200 people, was divided into two parts. In the first stage, 605 adults without dementia, aged between 35 and 65 years, were followed for nine years. The volunteers took a memory test at the beginning of the study and another at the end of it and filled out questionnaires about their sleep patterns.
The information was used to measure cognitive decline, a natural aging process. When this process occurs more quickly, however, it can be a sign of dementia.
The second stage of the study followed 2,600 elderly people over 80 years of age over five years. The researchers asked the volunteers to describe how often they had nightmares. None of them had dementia at the start of the research.
Scientists found that middle-aged adults who had at least two nightmares a week were four times more likely to experience significant cognitive decline over the years compared to those who had no nightmares. For seniors over 80, the risk of being diagnosed with dementia was only twice as high.