Researchers Just Got Closer To An Early Detection Of Parkinson's Disease
Strides are being made to develop more ways to detect Parkinson's disease—a brain disorder that affects a person's ability to move and speak. One example of this progress includes looking at people with a sleep disorder that may be an earlier indicator1 of the disease.
How a sleep disorder could help detect Parkinson's.
A new study 2published in the journal npj Parkinson's Disease found a potential new way to detect the disease. It would help doctors diagnose patients with the disorder earlier, which could help potential therapies be more effective1.
Parkinson's disease is a "brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination," according to the National Institute on Aging. Symptoms worsen over time, and people may eventually have trouble walking or talking. People with the disorder may also notice "mental and behavioral changes, sleep problems, depression, memory issues, and fatigue."
People with isolated REM (rapid eye movement) sleep behavior disorder sometimes show symptoms of Parkinson's disease or other related diseases later in their lives3. REM sleep behavior disorder causes people to experience particularly "vivid and disturbing" dreams and move around in their sleep4, potentially injuring themselves or others.
To understand the study, you need to know about a key characteristic of Parkinson's disease. It's part of a group of disorders that are characterized by the presence of unusual clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein in cells.
A research team led by Erdem Gültekin Tamgüney, Ph.D., from Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in Germany, found that people with REM sleep behavior disorder have a higher amount of the alpha-synuclein aggregates characteristic of Parkinson's disease in their stool. The researchers also presented a method for detecting the protein's presence, which could help doctors diagnose Parkinson's disease earlier.
Tamgüney hopes that his team's findings could prompt the development of a noninvasive tool to detect Parkinson's and other related disorders and help people receive therapies before symptoms occur. Nevertheless, more research would be needed.
How to improve REM & overall sleep quality.
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is one of the four stages of sleep—the one characterized by quick eye movements and increased brain activity and heart rate, among other things. It's also one of the stages during which we dream. REM sleep can help us consolidate memories and strengthen motor skills, though the purpose of the sleep stage isn't completely understood.
People normally go through four to five REM cycles each night, on average, comprising about 20% of their sleep.
People with REM sleep behavior disorder have potentially disturbing experiences characterized by vivid dreams and movements while sleeping. In REM sleep, our muscles are typically paralyzed temporarily to prevent us from physically acting out our dreams.
Getting enough sleep, in general, is important to our overall health, and some research indicates that insufficient REM sleep may lead to migraines and decreased mental sharpness. Regardless of whether you're at risk of REM sleep behavior disorder or Parkinson's, prioritizing sleep every night will pay off for your health and longevity.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve our sleep quality and duration:
- Follow your internal clock. It's true—going to sleep around the same time each night and waking up around the same time each morning does help you sleep better, according to experts.
- Try a sleep supplement. When looking for sleep supplements, seek out those with science-backed ingredients, such as magnesium bisglycinate, which can help older adults fall asleep faster and stay asleep5, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which can promote relaxation and soothe anxiousness6. Here are nine sleep supplements that are backed by research.
- Leave the caffeine for the morning. Caffeine can prevent you from falling asleep by blocking the sleep-promoting chemical adenosine from doing its thing. Plus, it takes a while to make its way through your system.
- Get your workout in. Isn't exercise always the answer? Exercising has been shown to help people fall asleep easier and get better-quality sleep.
Parkinson's disease can severely affect the quality of life of people living with it. Diagnosing the disease early, before symptoms are even present, can help people with Parkinson's disease receive therapies sooner and, hopefully, slow its progression. Researchers are studying new ways to detect the disease, including by studying people with REM sleep behavior disorder, who may show symptoms of Parkinson's disease later in life.
Francesca Bond is a freelance writer, newspaper reporter, and film photographer. She writes about fashion and culture in her newsletter, things i probably wrote in caffe aroma. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Buffalo State and lives in Buffalo, New York.