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Lewy Body dementia is the third most common type of dementia behind Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. It is estimated that Lewy Body dementia (or DLB – dementia with Lewy Bodies) affects 1.4 million Americans and accounts for 10 percent to 25 percent of all dementia diagnoses. It is frequently misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, but the cognitive symptoms associated with Lewy Body dementia are different: the short-term memory loss is not as common, but complex tasks become difficult, and visuospatial problems develop that make it hard to navigate distances and increase the likelihood of falling.
Lewy Body dementia was named for Dr. Frederick H. Lewy, the neurologist who discovered the abnormal buildup of proteins in the brain that cause the disease in the early 1900’s. The Lewy Body proteins are found in the brainstem and disrupt brain functionality, ultimately disrupting a person’s perception, thinking and behavior.
Lewy Body Dementia, or LBD, is an umbrella term for both dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia. It is one of the most common types of dementia, after Alzheimer's. Dementia with Lewy bodies starts with movement problems. Within a year, thinking and memory problems develop. Parkison's disease dementia also starts with movement problems, however the memory problems don't occur until much later in the disease.
Dementia with Lewy bodies is a type of progressive dementia that is characterized by abnormal microscopic deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid that slowly damage the brain over time.
Symptoms of Lewy body dementia include:
With DLB, there is no singular exam that can be administered to will detect the disease. Sometimes, the cognitive symptoms may appear first, and other times, the physical/movement symptoms will appear first, which can lead to an early misdiagnosis of either Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Lewy Body dementia will typically present itself in the following ways:
There is no cure for Lewy Body dementia, and in many cases the medications for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are the same as for DLB. However, for certain people living with DLB, the medications used for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can have an adverse effect on their health. In these cases, the medications can cause worsening of movement-related symptoms and lead to a potentially fatal condition called neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS). NMS can cause high fevers, rigid muscles and a breakdown in the body that can lead to kidney failure. If these symptoms occur after beginning a new medication regimen for dementia, contact your physician immediately.
Most recent research has shown that genetics are not a factor, and inheriting the disease from a parent is only found in about 10 percent of all diagnoses.
A diagnosis of Lewy Body dementia can be devastating. Finding the right support and resources may help you start to understand the journey of DLB.
The Lewy Body Dementia Association has a variety of informational publications, videos, essays, and additional resources for caregivers, as well as helpful links to find local support groups in your area.
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