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Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Caused by abnormal microscopic deposits (Lewy bodies) in the brain that damage brain cells over time, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), sometimes referred to as Lewy bodies dementia, is a progressive dementia that causes a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent functioning. It’s believed to be the third most common cause of dementia.

Lewy bodies are present in other brain disorders as well, including Parkinson’s disease dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Many people with DLB also experience some of the same movement symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, such as rigid muscles, hunched posture, trouble initiating movement and a shuffling gait. This correspondence of symptoms and other scientific evidence suggests a link between dementia with Lewy bodies, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

Symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Many symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies are common to aging, such as sleep difficulties and bouts of confusion; therefore, it’s important to understand the warning signs and discuss anything suspicious with your doctor. And as stated earlier, many symptoms are similar in nature to those experienced with Parkinson’s disease. Additional symptoms include:

  • Changes in abilities of thinking and reasoning
  • Confusion and alertness that varies significantly from one time of day to another or from one day to the next
  • Significant memory loss (less profound than Alzheimer’s)
  • Trouble interpreting visual information and cues
  • Delusions and visual hallucinations
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder where a person acts out dreams, sometimes violently

Dementia with Lewy bodies can also cause the autonomic nervous system to malfunction. (The autonomic nervous system is responsible for involuntary actions such as the beating of your heart and the widening or narrowing of the blood vessels.) Examples of malfunctions may include heart problems, problems with blood pressure and trouble swallowing or breathing.

Brain or Physical Changes Associated with Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of a specific protein, alpha-synuclein. For a person with DLB, these deposits build up in the areas of the brain responsible for regulating important functions such as movement, cognition, reasoning and behavior. DLB patients often have the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Causes/Risk Factors for Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Scientific research has found no specific cause for dementia with Lewy bodies. Most people diagnosed have no previous family history of the disease. Age may be a factor since most DLB diagnoses occur after the age of 50. Incidence of the disease is higher for males.

Diagnosis, Treatment and Care of Dementia with Lewy Bodies

There is no definitive test or combination of tests to conclusively diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies in a living person. This means that a DLB diagnosis must be “clinical” or a doctor’s best professional judgment about the reason for a person’s symptoms. Although DLB and Parkinson’s share many of the same symptoms, a person with DLB will exhibit dementia symptoms prior to the movement symptoms; whereas the order is reversed for Parkinson’s. There are currently no treatments to slow or stop the brain cell damage of DLB. Medications can help control symptoms. Patients diagnosed with DLB live an average of eight years following the presentation of symptoms.

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