Most people have heard of or know someone who has Alzheimer’s disease. Many fewer people have heard of a similar, widespread form of dementia called Lewy body dementia (LBD). According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, LBD is the “second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.”
LBD affects more than 1 million individuals in the United States. But, as the Association notes, “because LBD symptoms may closely resemble other, more commonly known disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, it is widely under-diagnosed.”
What is Lewy body dementia?
Lewy body dementia is a disease associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. These deposits, called Lewy bodies, affect chemicals in the brain. That, in turn, can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood.
People typically show symptoms at age 50 or older, although sometimes younger people have LBD. LBD appears to affect slightly more men than women.
Symptoms of LBD
According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, the most common symptoms of this disease include:
- Impaired thinking, such as loss of executive function (planning, processing information), memory, or the ability to understand visual information.
- Fluctuations in cognition, attention, or alertness.
- Problems with movement, including tremors, stiffness, slowness, and difficulty walking.
- Visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not present).
- Sleep disorders, such as acting out one’s dreams while asleep.
- Behavioral and mood symptoms, including depression, apathy, anxiety, agitation, delusions, or paranoia.
- Changes in autonomic body functions, such as blood pressure control, temperature regulation, and bladder and bowel function.
Comparing Alzheimer’s and Lewy body symptoms
This is a general comparison, and it may not accurately reflect symptoms experienced by a given individual. If you are concerned about any cognitive impairments for yourself or a loved one, we recommend discussing with your doctor right away.
- Mild: Wandering and getting lost; repeating questions
- Moderate: Problems recognizing friends and family; impulsive behavior
- Severe: Cannot communicate
Lewy body dementia
- Visual hallucinations
- Cognitive decline: Inability to concentrate, pay attention, or stay alert; disorganized or illogical ideas
- Movement problems: Muscle rigidity; loss of coordination; reduced facial expression
- Sleep disorders: Insomnia; excessive daytime sleepiness
Diagnosing Lewy body dementia
Diagnosing LBD can be challenging. Early symptoms are often confused with similar symptoms found in other brain diseases or in psychiatric disorders. Lewy body dementia can occur alone or along with other brain disorders.
LBD is a progressive disease, meaning symptoms start slowly and worsen over time. The disease lasts an average of five to eight years from the time of diagnosis to death, but can range from two to 20 years for some people. How quickly symptoms develop and change varies greatly from person to person, depending on overall health, age, and severity of symptoms.
Living with Lewy body dementia
At Windward Life Care, we have extensive experience assisting clients who are living at home with LBD and other forms of dementia. Give us a call at (619) 450-4300 to learn about our range of in-home services.