While the classic symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease includes tremors and difficulty moving, other symptoms include difficult with “working memory”. According to new research, this symptom can be eased in patients who are getting a good night’s sleep.
During the study, conducted at Emory University School of Medicine in Georgia, participants took a “digit span test,” in which they had to repeat a list of numbers forward and backward. The test was conducted in an escalating fashion: the list grows incrementally until someone makes a mistake. Participants took the digit span test eight times during a 48-hour period, four during the first day and four during the second. In between, they slept.
Repeating numbers in the original order is a test of short-term memory, while repeating the numbers in reverse order is a test of working memory.
Participants with Parkinson’s who were taking dopamine-enhancing medications saw their performance on the digit span test jump up between the fourth and fifth test. On average, they could remember one more number backwards. The ability to repeat numbers backward improved, even though the ability to repeat numbers forward did not.
Patients needed to be taking dopamine-enhancing medications to see the most performance benefit from sleep. Patients not taking dopamine medications, even though they had generally had Parkinson’s for less time, did not experience as much of a performance benefit. This may reflect a role for dopamine, an important neurotransmitter, in memory.