Dementia is a general and overarching term for a decline in mental ability, severe enough to interfere with daily activities. Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common type of dementia, affecting 60-80% of cases. Another common type of dementia, right behind Alzheimer’s, that isn’t as well known, is called Lewy Body Disease or Lewy Body dementia (DLB).
Seniors suffering from Lewy Body dementia will often exhibit some of the same signs as Alzheimer’s such and as memory loss and thinking problems, which is why it is not as easily diagnosed. However, patients with DLB are more likely to develop additional symptoms that set it apart from Alzheimer’s such as:
- Visual hallucinations or delusions
- Movement disorders or parkinsonian symptoms (Parkinson’s Disease). These include rigid muscles, tremors, balance issues, etc.
- Sleep disorders such as REM sleep behavior disorder where a person may act out their dream while sleeping, sometimes violently.
- Cognitive problems similar to Alzheimer’s such as confusion, poor attention, memory loss, trouble interpreting visual information, etc
- Depression or lack of motivation
- Problems with the autonomic nervous system (blood pressure, digestive process, pulse etc.), resulting in dizziness, falls, or bowel issues.
Symptoms of DLB can be difficult to differentiate between Alzheimer’s dementia, and because there is no way to form a conclusive diagnosis, a doctor must give a clinical diagnosis which is based on their best professional judgment. A diagnosis of DLB is given when the patient exhibits signs of dementia and signs of Parkinson’s Disease at the time of diagnosis, or dementia symptoms appear within one year of movement problems and also exhibit any of the above symptoms.
As with Alzheimer’s, there is no treatment to stop the progression of DLB, but there are a number of treatments designed to alleviate the symptoms. These include:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors: Currently used for Alzheimer’s, these medicines help treat the thinking changes, memory loss, cognition, and can also help with hallucinations and other behavioral problems associated with DLB.
- Parkinson’s Disease medication: These can help alleviate some of the movement symptoms, but can increase the risk of hallucinations and confusion.
- Medications to treat other symptoms such as sleep disorders
- Therapy and alternative medicine
Similar to Alzheimer’s, it is hard to pinpoint an exact cause of DLB. We do know that DLB is characterized by an abnormal buildup of proteins into masses called Lewy Bodies, which is also found in Parkinson’s patients. Certain risk factors include being over the age of 60, having a family history of DLB or Parkinson’s, and being male. Talk to your doctor if you think your loved one could be suffering from Lewy Body dementia, and what the best treatment plan is to alleviate some of the symptoms.