Alzheimer’s disease is the most well known form of dementia, but it is by no means the only kind. Today, we will explore a type of dementia known as Lewy body dementia. While it’s not on the tips of everyone’s tongue, LBD (as it's known for short) affects around 1.4 million Americans. It is the second most common type of dementia.
People with Lewy body dementia may experience changes in the way they move, think, and behave. The disease arises from abnormal deposits of a protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein. These deposits are called “Lewy bodies” after a German researcher named Dr. Frederich Lewy, who discovered them in 1912.
Diagnosing LBD can be tricky. Many symptoms are quite similar to those found in Alzheimer’s, as well as psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia. LBD can also coincide with other brain abnormalities.
The term “Lewy body dementia” is used for two conditions — dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and Parkinson’s disease dementia. As the conditions progress, both of these diagnoses lead to similar symptoms.
Lewy Body Dementia Symptoms
When people first begin experiencing Lewy body dementia, symptoms
are sometimes mild. People may live life with minimal interruption.
But eventually, LBD leads to thought and movement challenges. Later on, those living with Lewy body dementia may require 24-hour care.
LBD symptoms may be cognitive, physical, or behavioral. There can be sleep issues, memory problems, and emotional impacts. Here are some of the more common signs fall into four categories
- Cognitive issues. Cognitive issues with LBD patients can come and go. This is different from Alzheimer’s and may help clinicians identify Lewy body dementia.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Daytime sleepiness
- Illogical thinking patterns
- Physical Issues. Issues with movement are common in those with LBD.
- Stiff muscles
- Walking with a shuffle
- Moving slowly
- Trouble with balance
- Lack of coordination
- Trouble swallowing
- Handwriting problems
- Slumping posture
- Sleep. Problems with sleep are often missed and can often be treated.
- Unusual daytime sleepiness
- Restless leg syndrome
- Other sleep disorders
- Nervous system. Lewy body dementia may affect the nervous system in many ways.
- Blood pressure problems
- Dizziness or fainting
- Heat and cold sensitivity
- Sexual dysfunction
- Issues with sense
Remember, your loved one with Lewy body dementia may not have all of these symptoms and the severity of symptoms varies from patient to patient. Symptoms can shift quite rapidly. Be sure to alert your care team if anything changes.
Lewy Body Dementia Treatment
Certain Lewy body dementia conditions are treatable for a while. While the disease is not curable at this time, researchers are making progress. The research community is hopeful that emerging knowledge may enhance our ability to diagnose, care for, and treat LBD patients.
Treatment for LBD consists of numerous medications and therapies. Physicians tackle the various symptoms individually.
1. Using medication to treat Lewy body dementia.
- Cholinesterase inhibitors. Drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease are used to manage the effects of LBD. Medications including rivastigmine (Excelon), donepezil (Aricept), and galantamine (Razadyne) can help people with LBD be more alert, help with cognitive functions, and decrease behavioral issues including hallucinations.
- Parkinson’s disease prescriptions. Drugs like carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet, Rytary, Duopa) can help with the symptoms of Parkinson’s that often affect people with Lewy body dementia.
- Other medications. Drug therapies are used to treat common LBD symptoms such as issues with sleep or movement problems.
2. Non-drug approaches to treating Lewy body dementia.
A number of non-drug treatments are often the best place to start:
- Understanding one’s goals. If a friend or loved one with LBD is experiencing hallucinations, find out how much it bothers them. If they aren’t troubled, you might want to avoid medication. The “cure” might come with side effects that are harder on the patient than the disease.
- A clutter-free environment. Getting rid of clutter or stress-inducing noises makes it easier and safer for people to function, especially people with dementia. An in-home caregiver can help declutter, by removing top fall hazards in the home.
- Keeping the peace. Sometimes, a well-meaning caregiver can worsen the situation by questioning or criticizing people with LBD. Focus on reassurance. Use validation with your loved one to address agitation and anxiety. Acknowledge your loved one’s concerns. Speak in a soothing tone of voice.
- The value of a routine. People living with LBD may appreciate the predictability of a daily routine. Try to keep things simple. Break activities down into small steps. Highlight things that go smoothly. A simple, yet dependable structure can help reduce confusion.
Lewy Body Dementia Answers and Support
In addition to your loved one’s care team, a range of helpful resources
can guide you to the best information and most qualified resources. A good place to start might be the Lewy Body Dementia Association. There are also many local LBD support groups, Facebook Support Groups, along with LBD Social Networking. Visit the resources below to learn more.