Scientists are studying the results of childhood nightmares and have found a link between them and Dementia. For a while, scientists have known that older people who have routine nightmares are at risk for cognitive decline, but recent research suggests this might begin as early as age seven.
Birmingham researchers analyzed data from a 1958 British Birth Study. The data tracks children through 2008, up to their fiftieth birthdays.
Moms were asked about their children’s frequency of having bad dreams and night terrors over the course of three months at ages 7 and 11. The parents who noted that their children continued to have issues at ages 7 and 11 were classified as having persistent nightmares.
After studying the 7,000 youth until age 50, the study found that 268 people, or 4% had persistent bad dreams during their childhood.  Seventeen or 6% of those, developed Parkinson’s disease or other cognitive impairment issues by the time they turned fifty.

In contrast, of the 5,470 who were among the group who did not struggle with nightmares, only 199, or 3.6%, went on to develop cognitive issues classified under the umbrella of Dementia. 

The study examined other factors and did not find boys or girls were more likely to develop issues. The study also looked at the mother’s age and the number of children she birthed. Researchers did not find that either factor contributed to cognitive decline. Researchers have instead suggested that the results of poor sleep may be the underlying problem. Some have linked changes in brain structure to the resulting cognitive issues, and some have suggested that those having frequent bad dreams resulting in poor sleep quality could have a gradual build-up of proteins in their brain that are associated with Dementia.

Neurologist Abidemi Otaiku, who led the research, also noted that genetics might play a role in bad dreams leading to Dementia and Parkinson’s,

‘These results suggest that having regular bad dreams and nightmares during childhood may increase the risk of developing progressive brain diseases like Dementia or Parkinson’s disease later in life. They also raise the intriguing possibility that reducing bad dream frequency during early life could be an early opportunity to prevent both conditions.”

He also noted that parents could look for steps that might reduce their child’s nightmares and help prevent issues that arise later in life, “Being aware that bad dreams in childhood may signal a higher risk of dementia or Parkinson’s later in life suggests that there could be a window of opportunity to implement simple strategies to lower those risks.”

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