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Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia affects an estimated 1.4 million people in the United States. Although it is certainly not a rare disease, it often goes misdiagnosed because many in the medical field are still not familiar with it and its symptoms mimic other illnesses.

What is Lewy Body Dementia?

Lewy body dementia is a brain disorder where Lewy bodies build up in parts of the brain. Those Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein. When these proteins build up they can affect behavior, movement, and thinking.

Scientist Friederich Lewy discovered Lewy body dementia in the early 1900’s when he found that abnormal protein deposits can disrupt the way the brain functions normally. The Lewy body proteins are found in the part of the brain stem where they deplete dopamine. This can lead to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and is often the reason why it is misdiagnosed as such. Lewy bodies are also found in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Lewy body dementia can become extremely debilitating because it affects so many different functions. These include:

  • Thinking
  • Memory
  • Moving
  • Autonomic body functions
  • Bladder & bowel functions

As the disease gets progressively worse, it can also lead a patient to hallucinate.

Lewy body dementia is diagnosed through a series of tests that include physical and neurological tests. Through these tests the patient’s attention span, memory and visuospatial skills will be assessed. There may also be CT or MRI scans of the brain to further confirm a diagnosis, along with blood tests.

Signs & Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia

Since Lewy bodies are found in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and can also lead patients to suffer some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it can be hard to distinguish if it is indeed Lewy body dementia.

Here are some of the symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies:

  • Delusions
  • Changes in thinking & reasoning
  • Memory loss
  • Problems with the autonomic nervous system
  • Hunched posture, balance problems, rigid muscles (Parkinson’s symptoms)

When those in the medical field make a clinical diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, they often divide the symptoms into three different parts to determine if someone has the disease. These are:

Central Feature

This refers to dementia that gets worse over time.

Core Features

These include symptoms like recurring visual hallucinations, changes in alertness and attention span as well as some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease from time to time.

Suggestive Features

Problems sleeping can be included in this section.

Supported Features

These symptoms include falling repeatedly, unexplained loss of consciousness, autonomic dysfunction, and visuospatial issues.

If a patient has a combination of several of these types of symptoms, that may lead to a diagnosis of Lewy body dementia.

Lewy Body Dementia Causes

One of the most frustrating aspects of Lewy body dementia is there are not any specific causes. Most people who are diagnosed have no family history. To date researchers have not been able to link any genes to Lewy body dementia.

Researchers are only certain that this type of dementia is triggered by the onset of Lewy body proteins building up in the brain. What exactly causes that to begin is what remains unknown and the subject of much clinical research.

Lewy Body Dementia Care & Treatment

Sadly enough there is no cure for Lewy body dementia. That is why early diagnosis is key. Because there are so many different symptoms of Lewy body dementia, different types of medication are often prescribed to treat them.

If there are cognitive problems, medications usually used to treat these issues with Alzheimer’s patients are also used for Lewy body patients.

When there are muscular problems or problems pertaining to movement, then medications that are also used to treat these symptoms in Parkinson’s patients are used.

If a patient is suffering from hallucinations, antipsychotic medications may be prescribed. But there are severe side effects, so this medicine is only dispersed on a case-by-case basis.

Besides medical treatments, people suffering from Lewy body dementia may also receive physical therapy and speech therapy as well as occupational therapy to deal with the effects of the disease. While these treatments will not cure the symptoms, they will help to make them more manageable. As the disease progresses, the patient may no longer be able to perform the tasks necessary for these types of therapies.

It’s important to note that while these treatments and therapies may help a patient deal with Lewy body dementia, they will not cure the disease. Since it is a progressive illness the course it takes varies from person to person.

Find Lewy Body Dementia Care Near You

As with many other types of dementia, you may be able to care for a loved one at home if the disease is diagnosed early. This will help to make the disease more manageable since there is currently no cure.

As time goes on and the disease worsens, the patient may require 24-hour care that you cannot provide. In these cases, you may want to look into a memory care facility. You can call our dementia helpline to learn more.

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