During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycles, most people are effectively paralysed, so they don’t act out dreams.
However, a third of all people with Parkinson’s disease also have REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder – a condition that removes sleep paralysis and can cause people to lash out or hurt their bed partners.
Jessie De Roy, a PhD student at the Université du Québec à Montréal, is researching this connection between REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder and Parkinson’s in the hope of developing a biomarker – a physiological sign that can predict who will develop dementia in Parkinson’s disease.
People who have the Sleep Behaviour Disorder also have more severe Parkinson’s symptoms and experience faster disease progression. They also have a higher risk of dementia, more severe motor problems and more other symptoms such as blood pressure problems.
Other people who have this Disorder but have not yet been diagnosed with Parkinson’s will likely go on to develop it. That means pinpointing the association between this sleep Disorder and Parkinson’s may provide crucial cues for diagnosis and treatment.
Jessie De Roy uses brain scans, statistical models, and the results of sleep lab tests and psychological exams to identify structures in the brain and cellular pathways that are damaged in people with the Sleep Behaviour Disorder.
She compares the scans and other tests results in three groups of people – people living with Parkinson’s who have the Disorder, people with Parkinson’s who do not have the Disorder, and healthy people without either diagnosis.
By analysing the data from all three groups, she hopes to develop a biomarker for Parkinson’s.
Ultimately, she hopes gaining a better understanding of the brains of people with this sleep disorder can lead to new treatments. Earlier identification of people who are likely to develop dementia could also help them access any new drugs or other therapies designed to protect people from developing Parkinson’s or prevent its progression.
Université du Québec à Montréal
Parkinson Canada National Research program
Funded in partnership with Fonds de recherche du Québec