For adults over the age of 55, experiencing nightmares could be a sign of an increased risk for dementia down the road. A new study out of the United Kingdom has found that those who have frequent nightmares during mid-life are three times more likely to develop dementia later in life.
While the research is still ongoing, and scientists aren’t yet sure why this is the case, it’s important information to be aware of as we age. If you’re experiencing regular nightmares, be sure to talk to your doctor about it – they may want to do some further testing to monitor your risk for dementia.
The study published in the journal EClinical Medicine suggests that nightmares may become more prevalent several years before dementia symptoms set in. These characteristics include memory and thinking problems.
Lead study author, Dr. Abidemi Otaiku, said, “This is important because there are very few risk indicators for dementia that can be identified as early as middle age. While more work needs to be done to confirm these links, we believe bad dreams could be a useful way to identify individuals at high risk of developing dementia, and put in place strategies to slow down the onset of disease.”
For the study, more than 600 adult men and women aged between 35 and 64 were compared to 2,600 adults aged 79 and older. All participants were dementia-free at the start of the study and followed up for an average of nine years.
All participants were required to complete a series of questionnaires, including the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which includes a question on how often individuals experienced bad dreams. Using statistical software, researchers were able to find out whether participants with a higher frequency of nightmares were more likely to develop cognitive decline and be diagnosed with dementia.
It was found that middle-aged people (35-64) who experienced bad dreams on a weekly basis were four times more likely to experience cognitive decline over the following decade. Older people with bad dreams were only twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia. Interestingly, it was noted that the associations were much stronger for men than for women.
The next steps in this research will include investigating whether younger people with nightmares could be associated with future dementia risk. Researchers also want to analyze the relationship between dream characteristics and dementia risk.
Sleep and Brain Function
While some degree of cognitive decline is nearly inevitable as you age, this study shows how other factors (such as sleep) can take a toll on the ability of the brain to function at peak potential. This can affect memory, concentration, and overall brain function.
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