REM sleep disorder causes people to act out their dreams

It's a condition that most of us have never heard of, but REM sleep disorder is most common in men who also have Parkinson's disease, or Lewy body dementia.

When most of us sleep, our bodies enter a state of muscle paralysis. People with REM sleep behavior disorder lose that, and are capable of acting out physical activity in their dreams, which can be violent.

Orvis "Rig" Rigsby and his wife, Karen, loved theater and travel.

"He was a theater professor and I was a theater person so for me it was really. There was an immediate connection and we had a similar sense of humor and it was just a lot of fun," Karen said.

But just a few years ago, Rig started showing signs of dementia.

"He had an incident where he got very disoriented and lost in our backyard and that's when we started looking for help from a neurologist," Karen said.

At first, Dr. Ira Goodman thought Rig had Alzheimer's disease.

"And actually I initially referred him for a clinical trial for Alzheimer's disease but right before he entered I changed my mind," said Dr. Goodman.

Instead, Doctor Goodman diagnosed Rig with Lewy body dementia and REM sleep behavior disorder. The condition causes a person to act out violent dreams.

"There have been fractures, there's been subdural hematomas, and as far as spouses or bed partners, there's been reports of up to two-thirds of bed partners being injured during an episode," Dr. Goodman said.

"Sometimes he would just start yelling or sometimes he would start punching around. Sometimes, it was like he flew off the bed," said Karen.

Currently there is no cure. Rig wears a patch that helps ease the symptoms, but keeping a watchful eye is the best defense.

"If he's having a bad night I'll still sleep in the bed with him and hold my hand on his shoulder," said Karen.

Dr. Goodman and Karen Rigsby say not to be afraid of getting evaluated if you notice any symptoms.

"I tell everybody, don't waste time, don't waste time, don't wait, don't wait, don't wait. That's all you can say," Karen said.

A national phase three clinical trial is underway for a new drug called Nelotanserin to treat the REM sleep behavior disorder. Klonopin, an anti-anxiety drug, called Clonazepan in the generic form, is most commonly prescribed, but it has side effects. Another option mentioned by mayo clinic, is to take a dietary supplement called melatonin. By the way, Karen says her husband Orvis still loves theatre, movies, music and dance.

If you would like more information, check out the medical breakthroughs on the web at www.ivanhoe.com.

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