Most people have heard of Alzheimer’s disease, which currently affects more than 47 million people worldwide, but many are unaware that there are other forms of dementia. One example, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), is often described by doctors as “the most common disease you’ve never heard of”. Earlier this month, Susan Williams brought light to LBD when she confirmed that her husband, beloved actor Robin Williams, had been living with this disease.
Experts believe that LBD is the third most common form of dementia following Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Lewy Body Dementia is characterized by the build-up of Lewy bodies, which are abnormal deposits in the brain. LBD can be difficult to diagnose because as with other forms of dementia, there is no single conclusive test. Instead, a medical professional will diagnose LBD based on the individual’s symptoms.
Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia may seem varied and disconnected, but can include the following:
- Changes in thinking and reasoning
- Varying degrees of confusion and alertness from one day to the next
- Movement symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, such as hunched posture, difficulties with balance and muscle rigidity
- Visual hallucinations, delusions and difficulty understanding visual information
- Acting out dreams, sometimes violently (also known as REM sleep disorder)
- Malfunctions of the autonomic nervous system such as dizziness, falls and urinary incontinence
- Memory loss that may be significant but less prominent than in an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s
Both Parkinson’s disease dementia and LBD have overlapping symptoms because they make the same underlying biological changes to the brain, which further increases the difficulties in a diagnosis. The diagnosis is mostly likely LBD if a person develops dementia symptoms consistent with LDB first and other symptoms later; the person develops movement and dementia symptoms simultaneously; or the person develops movement symptoms first and dementia symptoms within a year. If the person is originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and then develops dementia symptoms after a year or longer, then it is most likely Parkinson’s disease dementia and not Lewy Body Dementia.
Key differences between Alzheimer’s and LBD include: memory loss may be more significant in Alzheimer’s whereas movement symptoms, hallucinations and REM sleep disorder are more common in LBD. There is currently no treatment to slow or stop damage to brain cells caused by Lewy bodies, but there are methods to help manage symptoms such as cholinesterase inhibitors to treat thinking changes, antipsychotic drugs to help relieve behavioral symptoms, antidepressants to regulate emotions and clonazepam to treat REM sleep disorder. Please consult you loved one’s primary physician for diagnosis or recommendations as to which pharmacological option is right for them.
Home Care Assistance offers the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, an in-home activities program scientifically developed to promote brain health as well as delay the onset and slow the progression of symptoms of cognitive decline. All caregivers are trained in the Method and expert dementia care practices so they are able to best care for individuals with moderate to advanced care needs.