Lewy body dementia is a condition that causes problems with thinking and memory. It's like Parkinson's disease but worse. Here's what you need to know about the symptoms, causes, and how it can be treated.
What is Lewy Body Dementia?
Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a type of progressive dementia caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein on the brain. These deposits are called Lewy bodies.
These deposits affect how those neurons function and cause symptoms like hallucinations, stiffness or slowness in movement, memory loss, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbances, trouble walking or balance problems, and depression.
What are the Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia?
Lewy body dementia is a progressive disease that affects the brain. It causes problems with thinking, behavior, and movement. The symptoms get worse over time, but they can change daily.
The following are some of the most common symptoms of Lewy body dementia:
- Memory problems, such as forgetting recent events and trouble learning new information
- Problems paying attention or concentrating for any length of time
- Problems solving simple puzzles or completing familiar tasks like balancing checkbooks or managing monthly bills
- Movement issues, such as stiffness, shuffling walking, tremor or shaking, similar to what is observed in those with Parkinson’s disease.
- Visual hallucinations, or seeing things that aren’t there. It’s estimated that up to 80% of LBD patients experience visual hallucinations.
- Behavior and mood issues, including depression, paranoia, agitation, or delusional thinking.
Who is Affected by Lewy Body Dementia?
According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA), about 1.4 million people in the U.S. have LBD. LBD is a progressive, degenerative disease that affects the brain. It can begin in early adulthood, but it's most common after age 50 and affects men and women equally.
There is currently no evidence that any specific lifestyle factors contribute to the risk of LBD. The biggest known risk factor at this time is simply age.
How is Lewy Body Dementia Treated?
There is no cure for Lewy body dementia. However, symptoms can be managed for some time with different therapies. The best results from these therapies come when patients are diagnosed early.
Medication for LBD
Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant or antipsychotic drug to help control mood swings, hallucinations, or delusions. These drugs can have side effects such as dizziness and nausea that make it difficult to stay on them long-term without breaks.
If one drug doesn't work well enough after several months of use — or if you experience unpleasant side effects — talk to your doctor about switching medications to find something that works better.
Those who experience sleep disorders with LBD may find some relief in taking melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a natural chemical your body produces to aid in sleep. Always talk to your doctor before taking a new supplement like melatonin, especially if you take other prescription medications.
Psychotherapy for LBD
Some patients find relief or learn coping skills for LBD through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help someone with LBD:
- Learn strategies for coping with stressors like losing friends or family members due to dementia symptoms
- Reduce anxiety by learning relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga
- Improve communication skills when interacting with others who don't understand what it's like living with this condition
- Help manage depression
How Lewy Body Dementia is Different from Other Types of Dementia
Lewy body dementia is just one type of dementia. The symptoms of Lewy body dementia are different from those of Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Here are a few of the key differences between Lewy body dementia from other types:
- In LBD, people experience more visual hallucinations than in other types of dementia — but this may happen less as time goes on.
- Patients with LBD tend to have more severe daytime drowsiness than those with other types of dementia.
- Lewy body patients are more likely to experience certain sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome, insomnia, or REM sleep behavior disorder (acting out one’s dreams or sleepwalking).
- LBD patients are more likely to experience tremors or other involuntary muscle movements, closer to Parkinson’s disease, than those with other forms of dementia.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, it's important to know that you and your family are not alone. Many resources and communities are available for those with this condition and their family members.
If you’re worried someone you care for with dementia is having trouble living independently, take our short quiz to understand their care needs and if assisted living is a good option.