What Is Lewy Body Dementia?

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What Is Lewy Body Dementia?

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a type of dementia that's caused by abnormal deposits of Lewy bodies in the brain, which affects its chemical messengers and leads to issues in cognitive function.

A protein called alpha-synuclein makes up Lewy bodies. In people with LBD, this protein forms in clumps on brain neurons. These clumps disrupt the regular functioning of neurons. Eventually, these neurons die. A build-up of this protein also affects chemical messengers in the brain.

Both of these phenomenons cause damage to the parts of the brain that control information processing, movement, memory formation, behavior, and emotions.

Lewy bodies are one of the leading causes of dementia. Other causes include severe head injuries, vascular diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Lewy bodies are named after Dr. Friedrich Lewy, a German neurologist who discovered abnormal protein deposits in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. 

More than a million people in the United States have Lewy body dementia. The condition affects your ability to function daily. It can affect your ability to think, move and speak. 

Lewy Body Dementia Symptoms 

Symptoms of Lewy body dementia vary from person to person. Signs of the condition can typically be classified into four major categories: symptoms that affect your sleep, cognition, movement, and behavior.

Symptoms Affecting Sleep 

Specific symptoms of LBD can affect your sleep. Some of the most common include:

  • Insomnia 
  • Restless leg syndrome 
  • Daytime sleepiness 
  • REM sleep behavior disorder 

Symptoms Affecting Cognition 

One of the most prominent characteristics of LBD is that it affects the way you think. Some of the symptoms include:

Symptoms Affecting Movement 

LBD symptoms that affect movement could start early on during the later stages of the condition, depending on what form of LBD you have. Some of the most common movement symptoms include: 

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Tremors 
  • A weaker voice 
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Muscle stiffness 
  • Slow movement 
  • Stoop in posture 
  • Reduced ability to make facial expressions

Symptoms Affecting Behavior

Lewy body dementia affects the behavior and mood of people who have the condition. Some of the most common ways include: 

Causes

The exact cause of Lewy body dementia is currently not known. However, continuous research is being done to discover more about how the condition works.

It’s evident that deposits of Lewy bodies on the brain are responsible for the damage to neurons and chemical messengers, which prevents the brain from functioning normally. However, it’s unclear why this even happens at all.

Lewy bodies affect the production of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that is essential for the formations of memory and learning. Lewy bodies also affect dopamine production, which has been linked to your mood, sleep, movement, cognition, and behavior.

While the exact cause of LBD is unknown, certain risk factors have been identified that make some people more likely to develop the condition:

  • Age: Older people are more likely to develop LBD. Most people with the condition are over 50 years old. 
  • Lifestyle: Some research suggests that maintaining a balanced diet and getting regular physical and mental exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia.
  • Other medical conditions: Being diagnosed with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease puts you at a higher risk of also developing LBD. 
  • Genetics: LBD isn’t a genetic disease. However, if a family member has the condition, that could increase your risk of developing it.  

Diagnosis

Medical experts find that diagnosing Lewy body dementia can be difficult. This is because early symptoms of the condition are similar to symptoms of other neurological disorders. There’s no particular test that can be used to identify LBD. For a proper diagnosis to be made, you will have to consult a neurologist or psychiatrist.

Tests that are used to help make a proper diagnosis include:

  • Brain imaging: This is a test used to detect any changes or abnormalities in your brain.
  • Blood tests: This is done to rule out any other possible reasons for the symptoms you are exhibiting.
  • Psychiatric evaluation: This is also done to rule out the possibility of other mental health conditions that could be causing your symptoms.

Types of Lewy Body Dementia 

Lewy body dementia is an umbrella term for two conditions: Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. 

Parkinson’s Disease Dementia 

A decline in motor skills first characterizes this form of Lewy body dementia. You’ll find that people with this type of LBD exhibit symptoms like tremors, an odd way of walking, muscle stiffness, and slower movement. As the condition progresses, cognitive decline and changes in behavior will also develop.

Dementia With Lewy bodies

With this form of Lewy body dementia, a person will first experience symptoms of cognitive decline. These symptoms are similar to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. However, as the condition progresses, people also experience a decline in motor skills, slowed movement, and difficulty walking.

Lewy Body Dementia Treatment 

There is currently no cure for Lewy body dementia. However, symptoms of the condition can be treated to improve your quality of life. Treatment usually involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and physical therapy. 

Medication

Medication is administered for different symptoms when treating Lewy body dementia. The following medications are typically prescribed for each category of symptoms:

  • For movement symptoms: Drugs like Parcopa and Stalevo are prescribed to help people with LBD move easier. 
  • For cognitive symptoms: Exelon (rivastigmine) is a medication used specifically to treat symptoms linked to cognition, like hallucinations and confusion. 
  • For sleep symptoms: Klonopin (clonazepam) is a drug typically used to treat seizures and panic attacks. However, it has also been found to treat REM sleep behavior disorder. 
  • For mood and behavioral symptoms: Antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medications are sometimes prescribed to help with mood and behavioral symptoms. Doctors often prescribe Seroquel (quetiapine) to help manage complex mood and behavioral symptoms of LBD. 

Coping With Lewy Body Dementia 

Coping with Lewy body dementia involves much more than your treatment plan. It’s also essential to have access to social support and a safe home.

In the early stages of this condition, symptoms are typically milder, and people with LBD can function. However, as the disease progresses, there will be a severe decline in cognitive and motor abilities, and assisted care will be necessary.

Taking care of your physical healthy by exercising regularly and eating nutritious meals, is also important. Symptoms of anxiety and depression could develop as a result of this condition. Speaking to a therapist who has experience working with people who have dementia, will help.

Behavioral changes are to be expected with LBD. Keeping a diary to track your triggers and what times of the day you experience changes in your behavior, will help you understand your condition better.

Therapy Following Your Diagnosis

Receiving a dementia diagnosis may feel disheartening. You might feel sad, angry, scared, or confused. Speaking with a therapist who works with clients who have received life-threatening medical diagnoses may be helpful. A therapist can help you come to terms with your diagnosis and address any fears you may have.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is Lewy body dementia fatal?

    Lewy body dementia is a progressive disease, which means it worsens over time and can shorten your life expectancy. Some research shows that, on average, people with this condition could have a lifespan of five to seven years after diagnosis. However, this isn't always the case. The good news is that you can live longer with the right treatment and proper care and support. 

  • Is Lewy body dementia different from Alzheimer's disease?

    There are many similarities between Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer's disease. While both conditions share similar symptoms, there are some marked differences between them. They include:

    • People with Lewy body dementia could experience difficulties moving early on. On the other hand, with Alzheimer's, motor problems don't occur until later stages.
    • Memory loss is more likely to occur in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease than in Lewy body dementia. However, memory loss could occur in the later stages of Lewy body dementia.
    • It's more likely for people with Lewy body dementia to develop REM sleep disorder than for people with Alzheimer's to develop the condition.
    • Symptoms like hallucinations and delusions are likely to occur more frequently in the earlier stages of Lewy body dementia than in Alzheimer's.
10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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