At some point in their lives, almost everyone has experienced the occasional nightmare. New research from the University of Birmingham published in the journal LANCET ECMedicineClinical suggests that frequent bad dreams in middle age may be a sign of the possible onset of future cognitive decline and dementia years or decades later.
Dr Abidemi Otaiku, from the Center for Human Brain Health at the University of Birmingham, said, “We demonstrated for the first time that distressing dreams, or nightmares, may be linked to dementia risk and cognitive decline in healthy adults in the general population.” Adding: ‘This is important because there are very few dementia risk indicators that can be identified in middle age. Although more work is needed to confirm these links, we believe that bad dreams could be a useful way to identify people at high risk of developing dementia and put in place strategies to slow the onset of the disease. .
The study included more than 600 men and women aged 35 to 64 and another 2,600 aged 79 or older. None of the participants had dementia at the start of the study. Data collection took place between 2002 and 2012, with the younger group being followed for an average of nine years and the older group for 5 years. A series of questionnaires with questions specific to the frequency of bad dreams were completed by the participants. The data was then analyzed using statistical software to see if those who had more nightmares were also more likely to develop cognitive decline and dementia.
According to the researchers, middle-aged people who have nightmares every week are 4 times more likely to experience cognitive decline over the next decade, and older people were also twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia. These links were found to be stronger in men than in women. Older men who have bad dreams every week are 5 times more at risk of dementia than those who don’t, and older women who have bad dreams have a 41% increased risk.
The team already plans to conduct further investigations using EEG and MRI technology to examine the biological basis of bad dreams in people with dementia and healthy people. They plan to study the impacts of nightmares on young people and adolescents and whether specific dream characteristics such as vividness and dream memories could help identify the possibility of cognitive decline and dementia risk.