Lewy body disease is a form of dementia that can affect a person's cognitive abilities and motor skills. Like other forms of dementia, there are several stages of the disease, which can make it difficult to diagnose — but early diagnosis is critical to managing the disease best as it progresses.
In this article, we'll explore what Lewy bodies are, how they affect your brain, and how Lewy body dementia is diagnosed. We'll also discuss how you can tell if you might have Lewy body dementia symptoms and what steps to take next if you do.
What is the Cause of Lewy Body Dementia?
Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by abnormal protein deposits called "Lewy bodies," found on the brain and spinal cord. The disease can affect people at any age, but it's most common in older adults with an average age of onset of around 60 years old.
LBD is only one type of dementia, and it is not caused by Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease — it is its own distinct disorder that shares some symptoms with these other conditions. Currently, no research suggests that certain lifestyles or genetic characteristics put someone at a higher risk for developing Lewy bodies that lead to LBD.
What are the Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia?
Lewy body dementia has some of the same symptoms as other types of the disease, but there are a few distinct symptoms to watch for that distinguish LBD:
Those with LBD may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. It’s common for those with LBD to experience REM sleep disorder, where they act out their dreams.
Individuals with LBD might see people or objects that aren't there. Hallucinations associated with LBD are recurrent, meaning they happen more than once. On the other hand, someone with LBD may also struggle to interpret visual information.
Someone with LBD might believe a loved one or caregiver is trying to harm them or steal something from them, even though they're not doing anything wrong. This is called paranoia. It's common for people with Lewy body dementia to have paranoid thoughts about their loved ones stealing from them or being unfaithful in some way; this happens because of changes in brain chemistry caused by this condition.
Someone with LBD might start taking more risks than they used to, which can put them in dangerous situations. They may take more risks with money, such as gambling, or physical activities.
Trouble With Motor Skills
LBD can be misinterpreted as Parkison’s disease because those with LBD may exhibit similar difficulties with movement, such as tremors when resting, slowed movement, or stiffness. Both conditions are serious, so if you or a loved one develops these movement difficulties, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
How is Lewy Body Dementia Diagnosed?
Diagnosis for Lewy body dementia is based on clinical exams, medical history, and lab tests. A doctor might ask the patient questions about their:
- Sleep habits
- Movement problems, such as tremors or stiffness
- Cognitive skills, such as trouble concentrating or planning ahead
They might also want to know if the patient has noticed any changes in how quickly they think since the onset of symptoms — slow or racing thoughts can be signs of Lewy body dementia.
Another factor in LBD that is not usually present in other forms of dementia is issues with the autonomic nervous system. If you often experience dizziness or have fainted upon standing, tell your doctor, and they can perform an orthostatic blood pressure test. The doctor will take your blood pressure while sitting, standing, and after standing for a few minutes to look for changes that indicate a problem with your autonomic nervous system.
The only way to definitively diagnose LBD is through an autopsy of the brain postmortem to show the presence of Lewy bodies.
When Should I Seek Medical Attention for Lewy Body Dementia Symptoms?
If you or a loved one experience any symptoms of dementia, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. In all forms of dementia, early diagnosis is important to start treatment. The progressive nature of neurodegenerative diseases means that treatment options to manage symptoms become limited as the disease progresses.
At this time, there is no cure for Lewy body dementia. Treatment for LBD focuses on reducing the impact of symptoms and improving the quality of life for the individual. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of Lewy body dementia and improve the quality of life for those affected by this disease.
Memory Care in an assisted living community is a great option to offer caregivers peace of mind for their loved one with dementia. Memory Care residents receive specialized care to promote cognitive function and live in spaces designed to help those with dementia navigate and maintain independence while staying safe.
Is it time for memory care? Take our short quiz below to help you and your loved one examine their symptoms and discover options.