What is Lewy Body Dementia?

You might be familiar with Lewy Body Dementia, a progressive brain disorder that was responsible for the death of Robin Williams and thousand of other. This disease occurs when microscopic protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, form in the brain. Lewy body dementia results in cognitive decline, including changes in memory, problem solving and also mobility. After, Alzheimer’s disease, it’s the most common type of dementia, accounting for about 20% of all dementia diagnoses.

Despite the large amount of cases, this Lewy Body Dementia is “decades behind Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease as far as the scientific advances and understanding of the disease,” according to Angela Taylor, director of programs at the Lewy Body Dementia Association.

How Many People Are Effected & Why?

Based on estimates from the Lewy Body Dementia Association, the disease affects about 1.3 million Americans. However, the diagnosis rate is a lot lower. The most commonly affected by LBD include adults over 50, especially men.

lewy body dementiaWhat Are The Symptoms Of Lewy Body Dementia?

Signs and symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s, but there are also many differences that are often missed by medical professionals.

1 – Visual Hallucinations

Many people who suffer from LBD experience visual hallucinations, including seeing colors, shapes, animals and people. Some patients also experience sound (auditory), smell (olfactory) or touch (tactile) hallucinations. This is often one of the earliest symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia.

2 – Movement Disorders

LBD causes symptoms that are similar Parkinson’s disease, including slow mobility, muscle rigidity, and tremors.

3 – Poor Regulation Of Bodily Function

This type of dementia affects the nervous system, which can affect the blood pressure, heartbeat, sweat glands, and digestive tract. Resulting symptoms include dizziness, balance, and bowel related issues.

4 – Cognitive Issues

Patients of LBD often experience cognitive decline, similar to that of Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms include confusion, short attention span, and memory loss.

5 – Sleep Disorders

Many LBD patients suffer from a disorder called rapid eye movement (REM), which causes quick, random eye movement, and muscle paralysis.

6 – Attention Deficit

Many people with LBD have difficulties with their attention. Common symptoms of this include, drowsiness, forgetfulness, blank stares, and disorganized speech.

Why is LBD Frequently Misdiagnosed As Alzheimer’s Disease?

Lewy Body Dementia is regularly mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease. This occurs because both of these disorders have similar symptoms, including memory loss. However, LBD and Alzheimer’s are both very different diseases. The most obvious difference is that LBD causes a more rabid decline, which often results in a much earlier age of death (approximately six years earlier than Alzheimer’s disease). LBD symptoms are often much more complex, making treatment more difficult for families and caretakers.

According to Angela Taylor, director of programs at the Lewy Body Dementia Association, “Getting the diagnosis right can be critical. People with LBD can become extremely sensitive to medication–especially some medicines that are used safely by someone who has Alzheimer’s disease.”

How Is It Diagnosed?

Diagnosing Lewy Body Dementia requires a thorough physical and neurological examination, patient and family interviews (including a detailed lifestyle and medical history), and neuro-psychological and mental status tests.

The Lewy Body Dementia Association explains that during this testing “the patient’s functional ability, attention, language, visuospatial skills, memory and executive functioning are assessed. In addition, brain imaging (CT or MRI scans), blood tests and other laboratory studies may be performed. The evaluation will provide a clinical diagnosis.”

However, it’s important to note that a “conclusive diagnosis of LBD can be obtained only from a postmortem autopsy for which arrangements should be made in advance. Some research studies may offer brain autopsies as part of their protocols.”

Can It Be Cured Or Treated?

Like with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, Lewy Body Dementia has no cure. However, there are many treatment options available that can help manage the symptoms and the progression of the disease. Earlier diagnosis of LBD can increase the effectiveness of these treatment options. Generally, after the onset of symptoms, a LBD patient can expect to live between five or eight years.

Early detection of LBD is important for both patients and their families. “The earlier we recognize the disease, the more we have the opportunity to help families have the knowledge and resources they need to help them understand what they’re dealing with,” Taylor says.


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