What Is Dementia With Lewy Bodies?

What Is Dementia With Lewy Bodies?

When people think of dementia they instantly think of Alzheimer’s disease. As by far the biggest cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s has attracted the most attention from the medical world, the press and the general public, but there are numerous other conditions that cause dementia. One that has received a boost in public interest recently, thanks to the American drama The Boss starring Kelsey Grammer, is dementia with Lewy bodies.

The Disease and Its Symptoms:

This condition, which is responsible for about 10 per cent of dementia cases, but is believed to be underdiagnosed, shares many symptoms with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. As a result it can often be misdiagnosed, and as with any progressive disease proper early diagnosis is the key to managing the condition.

You’re probably wondering what Lewy bodies are? First discovered in 1912 by Dr. Friedrich Heinrich Lewy, Lewy bodies are microscopic protein deposits found in the brain. They are associated with the death of brain cells, though whether they are the cause or effect of cell death isn’t clear. They spread throughout the brain and disrupt the transmission of chemicals such as dopamine and impair cognitive functioning.

Lewy bodies are also found in sufferers of Parkinson’s disease and someone with dementia with Lewy bodies may exhibit some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s such as limb trembling, muscle and joint stiffness resulting in a shuffling gait and impassive facial expression.

However, this form of dementia also has some symptoms that are particular to it. One of the most distressing to both the sufferer and those around them are vivid and sometimes frightening hallucinations. This symptom occurs in about two-thirds of cases. Although many report visions of animals or people that are nice, a significant proportion of sufferers have threatening hallucinations which cause anxiety and distress.

Another unique symptom that sets this form of dementia apart from Alzheimer’s is that the cognitive functioning of those who have the condition can often fluctuate quite wildly over periods of times, sometimes within a matter of minutes. If a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s has been given, but the person is sometimes able to function normally for periods of time before becoming confused again, then they may well have dementia with Lewy bodies.  

The Prognosis:

Because dementia with Lewy bodies is a progressive disease with no current cure the patient will deteriorate over time. There are however options that can make the patient more comfortable, for example Parkinson’s-like symptoms can be relieved by using anti-Parkinson’s drugs, although it has been found that these can aggravate hallucinations in some patients. Good care can be a lifeline to patients and family members with activities that can stimulate and engage with the sufferer, allowing higher quality of life. As the symptoms progress more care will be needed and often a move into a care home specialising in dementia care is the most appropriate form of action.

There are also some initial studies that indicate certain other drugs can help with managing symptoms of this form of dementia, but these need further investigation.

As always, any concerns you have for yourself or a loved-one should be referred to a medical professional.

This guest post was created in association with Hallmark Care Homes, who operate care homes in Essex, and in many different locations across the UK

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