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Types of Dementia: What is Lewy Body Dementia?

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Something a lot of people don’t know is that dementia is not a disease in and of itself, but rather a group of symptoms that can be caused by a variety of factors. The first cause that occurs to people, and rightfully so, is Alzheimer’s disease, which is the leading cause of dementia worldwide. Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is the third most common type of dementia, and not many people know a lot about it.

What is Lewy Body Dementia?

In LBD, protein bodies called Lewy bodies develop in regions of the brain involved in cognition and memory, and also in regions that work on motor control. The same protein is associated with Parkinson’s disease, and that likely accounts for the associated symptoms, which affect both cognition and motor function. The protein deposits inhibit the ability of neurons to work properly, causing brain cells to die. At scale, this can have devastating effects on the brain.

Lewy Body Dementia usually affects those over 60 years of age. It affects men and women about equally, and can be hereditary.

People with LBD usually experience a decline in mental faculties, much like that experienced with Alzheimer’s. One distinctive symptom of LBD not shared by many other causes of dementia is hallucinations. These may be visual, auditory, olfactory, or tactile. However LBD is also associated with motor symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s — tremors, muscle rigidity, etc.

Lewy Body Dementia affects more than a million people and their families in the United States alone, and that number may be low, because the symptoms can lead to an Alzheimer’s or other general dementia diagnosis.

The timing of symptom occurrence leads to a distinction between two different diagnoses:

  • A person with “dementia with Lewy bodies” will develop dementia and other LBD symptoms, one of which may be changes in movement like a tremor (Parkinsonism).
  • In the other form of LBD, people will present first with changes in movement leading to a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis; over time many will develop dementia years later. This is diagnosed as “Parkinson’s disease dementia”.

Ultimately, the two converge to similar symptoms in the later stages.

Usually, if doctors suspect LBD, they will offer further studies, including brain scans and sleep studies. In 2017, the set of guidelines for diagnosing LBD were revised to include: REM sleep behavior disorder, and tests results, formal sleep study, and brain and cardiac imaging, are highly predictive for the presence of Lewy bodies in the brain.

Treatment Options

As with most other progressive dementias, there’s no cure for LBD. Treatment involves managing symptoms. Certain medications can help with the motor control symptoms. Occasionally, if hallucinations become a significant problem for quality of life, antipsychotic medications could help to control them. Physical and occupational therapies can help patients improve and retain their motor function.

If you suspect your loved one may be experiencing the early symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia, you should definitely speak to a doctor about doing more testing.

While you’re at it, take our 5 Minute Home Care Quiz to assess six key warning signs from eating habits to personal hygiene and behavior to be able to confidently take the next step in caring for your loved one with dementia.

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