Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is a neurological disorder that damages the brain. It was discovered by Dr. Lewy in 1912 but has been under-diagnosed until recently. It looks like a combination of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease and while it is different, there is a possibility that it is related to both of these disorders. There is not a specific test that can distinguish LBD from other conditions with these shared symptoms. LBD can present with unexplained rigidity, falls, loss of consciousness, or problems with hand use and difficulty swallowing. These are often the first symptoms noticed and can be combined with episodes of visual hallucinations or delusions. Currently, more men have been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia than women. The average length of life after symptoms appear is 5-7 years. However, cases have ranged from 2-20 years.
Lewy Body Detection & Treatment
Early detection is critical due to the extreme sensitivity to medication Lewy Body can create. Certain classes of medications can cause extreme adverse reactions and even be life threatening.
The Orchard at Athens is a community that is trained in support of someone living with the hallucinations or delusions that often accompany an LBD diagnosis. This is a difficult experience for someone with the condition and care approaches are critical to reducing a person’s anxiety and impacting their quality of life.
A definite diagnosis can still not be confirmed until an autopsy is completed LBD is a ‘probable’ diagnosis or a ‘possible’ diagnosis, based on symptoms and progression. LBDA, the Lewy Body Dementia Association is a great resource for learning more.
Because LBD affects the chemicals of the brain first, the signs and symptoms can vary and be inconsistent before it damages the structure of the brain.
- It is not the same as Alzheimer’s
- Early symptoms are frequently missed or thought to be Parkinson’s
- Progression may be different than other dementias
- It is possible to have Lewy Body Dementia and other forms of dementia at the same time
- LBD may begin at a younger onset (50-55 years of age)
- Some medications may cause serious side effects including more anxiety or agitation, increased rigidity or inability to move, or sudden death. (anti-psychotics, anti-anxiolytics, sleep aids and Parkinson medications)
What Are The Signs of Lewy Body Dementia?
- Falls with lack of ability to catch or stop the fall, often on uneven surfaces, with change in flooring or sudden changes of direction.
- Shuffling gait or leaning to one side
- Loss of Consciousness
- Unexplained rigidity or inability to move when asked to do so
- Problems using hands and fingers, awkwardness, complaints of touch or temperatures, holding fingers closed tightly or clenched in a fist, problems figuring out how to use utensils or tools
- Difficulty swallowing
- Visual hallucinations and seeing things that are not real, most frequently people, children or animals
- Sleep disturbances which include insomnia, night time wakefulness with agitation and emotional distress, nightmares and acting out dreams
- Urgency incontinence – inability to wait to void, the sudden intense and frequent need to urinate is very common with LBD (not with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s) in early stages.