Lewy body dementia is the second leading cause of neurodegenerative dementia. It is second only to Alzheimer's. This means that it affects millions of people around the world and leads to significant death tolls. "Neurodegenerative" refers to a set of symptoms that affects the brain and causes it to deteriorate in various ways. Lewy body dementia typically attacks the thinking, memory, and motor skills areas of the brain. Yet it can affect the automatic nervous system as well and cause visual information to be corrupted by the brain. As with all types of dementia, Lewy body dementia is progressive and incurable.
Some of the first symptoms of Lewy body dementia are difficulty with thinking and remembering as well as rapid changes in balance or motor skills. Symptoms may even include hallucinations or nightmares. Lewy body dementia patients tend to decline rapidly as compared to those with Alzheimer's. They often have troublesome reactions to dreams, acting them out quite vividly, before they begin to lose thought or memory. This is one way to spot early development of the disease, but it relies on close observation by someone nearby. It is hard to detect if the person lives alone or does not receive round-the-clock monitoring.
When someone experiences symptoms caused by Lewy body dementia, it can, at first, appear to be Alzheimer's. It is often misdiagnosed as such (or, almost as commonly, as Parkinson's Disease). However, Lewy body dementia differs in a few key ways which can be used to diagnose and properly treat it.
First, it frequently starts earlier and develops faster than Alzheimer's. The decline tends to be rapid and symptoms start showing when patients are younger. It also tends to affect memory more slowly than Alzheimer's. Patients with Lewy body dementia can forget the faces of family members or have trouble remembering the date. Yet they are more likely to experience visual or auditory hallucinations or have trouble making decisions and thinking.
A shorthand way to distinguish the two is to think that Alzheimer's affects memories of the past, and Lewy body dementia affects brain functions in the present. Lewy body dementia also frequently affects movement, similarly to Parkinson's. It can cause hunched posture or produce jerky, tense movements.
Caregivers who are concerned that their charges may have Lewy body dementia should contact a primary care physician. After speaking with the physician, they should request a referral to a neurologist. Any type of treatment should be suspended until obtaining a firm professional answer as to what is causing the worrying symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to preserve brain health. However, improper diagnosis and treatment can make matters worse. If possible, caregivers should make plans to keep their charges safe when not under someone's direct care. Many forms of dementia also cause wandering or episodes of confusion. These symptoms can lead to injury or even death, and they should be taken very seriously.
Second or even third opinions are musts, even if the first physician's diagnosis is Lewy body dementia. Several kinds of diseases exhibit similar characteristics, especially in the early stages. Unfortunately, some of these are impossible to diagnose with perfect certainty until after the death of the patient. As such, they are easy to misdiagnose. Getting multiple opinions can help identify the best possible course of action.
Dementia often appears to be the end of the world, but it truly does not have to be. There are clinical treatments that are successful at aiding or maintaining neurological health. Even new or holistic treatments like exercise, diet, and communication skills may help. Family members should read up on the latest research and discuss it with their healthcare teams. Although Lewy body dementia is not yet curable, many seniors with it can still lead long, full, and healthy lives.
Alzheimer's Association. Dementia with Lewy Bodies. Available at http://www.alz.org/dementia/dementia-with-lewy-bodies-symptoms.asp. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). What is LBD? LBDA.org. Available at https://www.lbda.org/category/3437/what-is-lbd.htm. Retrieved September 25, 2016.