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Monday, 3 July, 2000, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Elderly 'hurting themselves' while asleep
Hospital patient
Elderly men are most at risk of RSBD
Elderly people could be sustaining serious injuries because of a sleeping disorder.

A study of more than 1,000 people aged 70 or more found some twitched or kicked out while asleep.

According to the researchers, these "vigorous movements" are not a rare phenomenon and could lead many elderly people to injure themselves or their bed partners.

The condition known as REM sleep behaviour disorder (RSBD) is an abnormal form of sleep which has only recently been reported.

People with RSBD make excessive and vigorous movements during sleep and may have vivid and frightening dreams.

The rate of RSBD in the general population is still unclear but the few studies that have been carried out indicate that it affects older people and males.

Research presented to the Royal College of Psychiatrists annual meeting in Edinburgh indicated that around 1% of the 1,000 people studied suffered from RSBD.

History of injury

Researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong found eight of those studied had a history of sleep-related injury.

This disorder does not happen all the time and it may come and go

Professor Jim Horne, University of Loughborough

A further six people had a history suggestive of RSBD while four were confirmed to have the disorder during sleep studies.

Two of these had been hospitalised for injury sustained during sleep, but their sleep disorder had not been recognised by the clinicians.

None of the subjects or their relatives thought they had a sleep disorder. However, of the four subjects with confirmed RSBD, three responded well to low dose clonazepam, which is used to treat epilepsy and is a mild sedative.

The researchers suggested that although their study found low rates of RSBD, it might be that the prevalence of the disorder is under-estimated.

Professor Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University, said: "I have no idea what the incidence may be in this country, but it does affect men more.

"This disorder does not happen all the time and it may come and go, so it may happen one night and not the next."

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