Parkinson’s disease is one of the more debilitating diseases of the brain.
While not one of the more common neurological conditions (some 50,000 people yearly are diagnosed with Parkinson’s) the damage the disease causes to the infrastructure of the brain and the subsequent loss of coordinated motor function ranks it among one of the most devastating.
Research about the disease hasn’t given us clear answers about what causes the disease, but scientists believe they may be closer to understanding what causes it.
Recent research indicates a disorder of sleep during the restorative portion of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) could correspond to an increased risk in Parkinson’s disease.
The team of scientists from McGill University in Montreal, Canada believe a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) — could be a good predictor of risk for Parkinson’s.
What is RBD and How Might It Cause Parkinson’s?
During REM sleep the body enters a state of near paralysis as a person’s eyes being to move rapidly inside of the eyelids.
REM sleep is when most of a person’s intensive dreaming takes place, and the body shuts down motor systems, so a person doesn’t physically act out what’s going on while dreaming.
When a person suffers from RBD, their bodies do not enter a paralyzed state, and in the majority of people suffering from RBD they end up acting out portions of their dream.
Researchers have observed that those who suffer from RBD have a greater likelihood of developing Parkinson’s.
The team wanted to confirm whether or not an RBD diagnosis really could predict the future development of Parkinson’s.
To see how strongly the two are associated with each other teamed up with 1,280 people with REM sleep behavior disorder across 24 centers of the International RBD Study Group.
Throughout 12 years they analyzed the subjects’ motor function, cognitive abilities, and sensory abilities. At the end of the study, 73.5 percent of the people who took part in the study ended up developing Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to Parkinson’s disease, many of the people involved in the study who went on to develop some loss in motor function control were shown to have a 300% increase in the risk of developing dementia or Lewy bodies disease.
The Future Of Assessment
Part of the reason this study can be viewed as a success is that the accuracy of the prediction negates the need for more expensive tests like dopamine transporter imaging.
Dr. Ron Postuma, lead author in the study said that while dopamine transporter imaging may assess the integrity of the dopaminergic system, which typically becomes compromised in parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease, the test is complex and costly. In contrast, assessing for the risk factors that the current study considers is both quick and cost-efficient.
“We confirmed a very high risk of [Parkinson’s disease] in people with REM sleep disorder and found several strong predictors of this progression,” notes Dr. Postuma.
“As new disease-modifying treatments are being developed for [Parkinson’s disease] and related diseases, these patients are ideal candidates for neuroprotective trials.”