Background: The definition of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD) has varied over the years. Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder can be considered isolated or idiopathic or can occur in the context of other disorders, including trauma-associated sleep disorder (TSD) and overlap parasomnia. However, whether trauma in RBD carries any prognostic specificity is currently unknown.
Study Objectives: To test the hypothesis that RBD secondary to trauma is less likely to result in the development of neurodegeneration compared to idiopathic RBD (iRBD) without trauma in the general population.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study of 122 consecutive RBD patients (103 males) at two tertiary sleep clinics in Europe between 2005 and 2020 was studied. Patients were diagnosed as having iRBD by video polysomnography (vPSG) and had a semi-structured interview at presentation, including specifically eliciting any history of trauma. Patients with secondary RBD to recognized causes were excluded from the study. Patients with iRBD were categorized into three groups according to reported trauma history: (1) No history of trauma, (2) traumatic experience at least 12 months prior to RBD symptom onset, and (3) traumatic experience within 12 months of RBD symptom onset. Idiopathic RBD duration was defined as the interval between estimated onset of RBD symptoms and last hospital visit or death. Follow-up duration was defined as the interval between iRBD diagnosis and last hospital visit or death.
Results: In a follow-up period of up to 18 years, no patient who experienced trauma within 12 months preceding their iRBD diagnosis received a diagnosis of a neurodegenerative disorder (n = 35), whereas 38% of patients without trauma within the 12 months of symptom onset developed a neurodegenerative illness. These patients were also significantly more likely to have a family history of α-synucleinopathy or tauopathy.
Conclusions: The development of RBD within 12 months of experiencing a traumatic life event, indistinguishable clinically from iRBD, did not lead to phenoconversion to a neurodegenerative disorder even after 18 years (mean follow up 6 years). We suggest that a sub-type of RBD be established and classified as secondary RBD due to trauma. Additionally, we advocate that a thorough psychological and trauma history be undertaken in all patients presenting with dream enactment behaviors (DEB).