This form of dementia shares common symptoms with both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Since dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is often misdiagnosed, it’s critical to understand the factors involved in this condition. It is not a rare condition, as an estimated 1.4 million individuals are affected in the United States.
Since this condition shares so many symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, it may even be under-diagnosed. Lewy body dementia is an umbrella term that refers to both dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s. Let’s explore the symptoms, causes, and possible treatment methods for this condition.
What is Dementia with Lewy Bodies?
After Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, DLB is the third most common form of dementia. ‘Lewy bodies’ comes from the hallmark abnormalities that neurologist Frederick Lewy discovered in the early 1900s. It was found that these Lewy bodies caused a depletion in the neurotransmitter dopamine.
A protein known as alpha-synuclein is naturally found in the brain, being a key component of Lewy bodies. It’s normal function isn’t exactly known at this time. Since this is a progressive condition, issues with one’s cognition will develop over time.
Symptoms and Signs of DLB
It’s critical to see a doctor if you notice any abnormal symptoms. Remember, everyone is unique in terms of their brain chemistry and situation so symptoms can vary. With that being said, some of the most common signs include:
- Experiencing hallucinations and delusions
- Problems with thinking and reasoning
- Symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as balancing problems, stiff muscles, and poor posture
- Memory loss
- Issues interpreting visual information
- Increasing sleep difficulties
- Changes in mood, becoming more depressed or anxious
Causes of DLB
As mentioned, dementia with Lewy bodies develops due to abnormal proteins throughout the brain. These deposits are also found in Parkinson’s patients which is why this type of dementia shares a lot of overlapping symptoms. The cause of this type of dementia isn’t fully known, however, Lewy bodies are a clear indication as to why individuals experience symptoms of decline.
Due to the build-up of alpha-synuclein, the brain isn’t able to produce two critical chemicals. The first is acetylcholine which is responsible for memory and learning. The second is dopamine, affecting mood, sleep, and movement. What is unknown at this time is why they Lewy bodies form and why some people get this condition and others do not.
Treatment for DLB
At this time, there is no cure for this form of dementia. When treating this condition, support and symptom management typically allow an individual to improve their quality of life. Since symptoms vary and differ across cases, a number of professionals will generally be included in one’s treatment plan.
Since everyone responds differently, treating DLB with medication isn’t generally best. Also, medications that are prescribed to treat hallucinations, often negatively affect one’s movement, making symptoms regarding motor skills even worse. There are medications, however, that are often used to treat sleep problems, such as melatonin.
Based on this reason, non-drug approaches should be tried before drug treatments. Generally, the symptoms that both the individual and carer identify as the most troublesome are often the symptoms that are the main focus. Managing the worst symptoms can help maximize quality of life. Physical therapy has been shown to improve symptoms relating to balance and movement.
How Does DLB Differ From Alzheimer’s?
Although both Alzheimer’s and DLB are types of dementia and share similarities, there are distinct differences that are worth mentioning. First, symptoms of cognition vary from one condition to the next. When it comes to memory, Alzheimer’s is progressive and memory continues to decline over time while DLB and memory symptoms can vary from day to day and aren’t as prominent in the earliest stages.
There are also key differences in movement, symptoms regarding hallucinations, sleeping disorders, and changes to the autonomic nervous system. In terms of movement, for instance, issues with balance and walking tend to arise earlier in DLB. Although issues with walking often occur in Alzheimer’s cases, issues with mobility and balance tend to develop later, as the disease progresses.
Communicating When Your Loved One Has DLB
The most important thing to remember when caring for someone with DLB is flexibility. An individual affected with this condition may exhibit varying symptoms from day to day. There may be some days where everything seems okay, yet other days that are highly frustrating and stressful.
Many caregivers find it helpful to attend support groups, as they learn new skills in terms of communication and dementia. At these support groups, individuals often learn new skills regarding motor impairments as well.
NHS. (2015). Dementia with Lewy Bodies. National Health Service. Retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/dementia-with-lewy-bodies/Pages/Introduction.aspx