Crucial Facts You Need to Know About Lewy Body Dementia

1.4 million people in the United States are estimated to have Lew Body dementia. With that said, few individuals have heard of Lew Body dementia. In addition, there are even medical professionals who know next to nothing about Lew Body dementia. Some medical professionals do not even realize that Lew Body dementia exists. Understanding the state of affairs in regard to Lew Body dementia, there are 10 things you need to know about this condition. 

Medical Definition of Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia or LBD is the second most common form of degenerative dementia in the United States and elsewhere around the world today. The only other form of degenerative dementia that is more common than Lew Body dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Lew Body dementia actually is an umbrella term for dementia that is caused by the presence of Lewy bodies in the brain. Medically speaking, Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein. 

Three Presentations of Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia can have one of three common presentations. Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features:

  • Some individuals will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and later develop dementia. This is diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease dementia.
  • Another group of individuals will start out with a cognitive/memory disorder that may be mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent, leading to the diagnosis of “dementia with Lewy bodies.”
  • Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities. This also can lead to an initial misdiagnosis leading to an initial diagnosis.

Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia

There are a set of symptoms that can be indicative of a person afflicted by Lewy Body dementia. It is important to note, that these symptoms can also be a sign of other types of diseases and conditions. The most commonplace symptoms associated with Lewy body dementia include:

  • Impaired thinking, such as loss of executive function (planning, processing information), memory, or the ability to understand visual information.
  • Fluctuations in cognition, attention, or alertness.
  • Problems with movement, including tremors, stiffness, slowness, and difficulty walking.
  • Visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not present).
  • Sleep disorders, such as acting out one’s dreams while asleep.
  • Behavioral and mood symptoms, including depression, apathy, anxiety, agitation, delusions, or paranoia.
  • Changes in autonomic body functions, such as blood pressure control, temperature regulation, and bladder and bowel function.

Treatment of Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia

The symptoms of Lewy Body dementia are treatable. All medications prescribed for Lewy Body dementia are approved for a course of treatment for symptoms related to other diseases. These other diseases include Alzheimer’s disease as well as Parkinson’s disease with dementia. These treatments offer symptomatic benefits for cognitive, movement, and behavioral problems that can be associated with Lewy body dementia.

Early Diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia Is Essential

Early and accurate diagnosis of Lewy body dementia is essential. Early and accurate diagnosis is important because Lewy body dementia patients may react to certain medications differently than patients with other types of diseases of conditions that Lewy body dementia can be confused. A variety of drugs, including anticholinergics and some antiparkinsonian medications, actually have the capacity to worsen Lewy body dementia symptoms.

Medication Warnings and Lewy Body Disease

Traditional antipsychotic medications may be contraindicated for individuals living with Lewy body dementia. Many traditional antipsychotic medications (including, haloperidol, thioridazine) are sometimes prescribed for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia to control associated behavioral symptoms. However, Lewy body dementia affects an individual’s brain differently than these other types of dementias. As a result, these medications can cause a severe worsening of movement and a potentially fatal condition known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome or NMS. NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity, and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure in a person who has Lewy body dementia.

Early Recognition, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Lewy Body Dementia

Early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of Lewy Body dementia can improve a patient’s quality of life. Early treatment has the very real potential to lessen symptoms and to extend an individual’s life.

How Lewy Body Dementia Affects a Person With the Condition

Lewy body dementia may affect an individual’s cognitive abilities, motor functions, and ability to complete essential activities of daily living. Treatment should always be monitored by a physician and may include prescriptive and other therapies. In addition, recommendations are likely to me made to a person with Lewy body dementia in regard to exercise, diet, sleep habits, changes in behavior, and daily routines.

Support for People With Lewy Body Dementia

Individuals and families living with Lewy body dementia should not have to face this disease alone. Lewy body dementia affects every aspect of a person with the condition. This can include mood, the way they think, and the way they move. People with Lewy body dementia and their families will need considerable resources and assistance from healthcare professionals and perhaps other organizations and agencies. The combination of cognitive, motor, and behavioral symptoms creates a highly challenging set of demands for continuing care. 

Physician Education About Lew Body Disease

Physician education is urgently needed. An increasing number of general practitioners, neurologists, and other medical professionals are beginning to learn to recognize and differentiate the symptoms of Lewy body dementia. It is worth mentioning again that Lewy body dementia is the most misdiagnosed form of dementia. More education on the diagnosis and treatment of Lewy body dementia is essential.

Need for More Research Into Lewy Body Dementia

In conclusion, more research into Lewy body dementia is urgently needed. Research needs include tools for early diagnoses, such as screening questionnaires, biomarkers, neuroimaging techniques, and more effective therapies. With further research, Lewy body dementia may ultimately be treated and prevented through early detection and neuroprotective interventions. Currently, there is no specific test to diagnose Lewy body dementia.