Frequent nightmares could be a warning sign of dementia, study finds

Frequent nightmares could be a warning sign of dementia, study finds

Most people experience bad dreams from time to time, but researchers have warned that frequent nightmares could be a sign of future cognitive decline.

Previous studies have suggested that good sleep can reduce your likelihood of developing dementia.

But researchers from the University of Birmingham have found that bad dreams could become more common for middle aged adults several years or even decades before brain problems set in.

Dr Abidemi Otaiku, lead researcher, said: “Very few risk indicators for dementia can be identified as early as middle age.

“While more works needs to be done to confirm these links, we believe bad dreams could be a useful way to identify individuals at high risk.”

He explained that these findings could help patients spot early stages of dementia and allow doctors to adopt “strategies to slow down the onset of the disease”.

The first part of the study, published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, followed 605 dementia-free adults, aged between 35 and 64, for an average of nine years.

The participants were asked to complete memory tests at the start of the study, and once again at the end.

They were also quizzed on their sleeping patterns, including whether they experienced nightmares.

The memory test was used to track how quickly their brain power had deteriorated, also known as cognitive decline.

This is a natural consequence of ageing, but faster than expected can be a precursor of dementia.

Meanwhile, the second part of the study tracked more than 2,600 dementia-free volunteers who were over the age of 80, for around five years.

They were also quizzed about their experiences of nightmares, but researchers looked at their medical records instead of a memory test.

The study found that middle-aged adults who experienced at least two nightmares a week were four times more likely to experience ‘significant cognitive decline’, compared to those who did not suffer any.

Participants in their over-80s who regularly experienced nightmares, were twice as likely to develop dementia.

Researchers suggested that nightmares may be a by-product of neurodegeneration in the right frontal lobe.

Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK, but identifying the signs early can help slow down the disease’s devastating progression.

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