While Alzheimer’s may be the most common type of dementia, researchers are now confirming that Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is yet another type that is being diagnosed in a lot of people. LBD is a severe condition in which protein deposits called lewy bodies start developing in the nerve cells in the human brain that create disturbances in memory, thinking and movement.
Here are 10 essential facts you may not have known about lewy-bodies dementia.
Fact #1: It is different from Alzheimer’s
Many people commonly believe that Alzheimer’s disease is the same as dementia. However, that is a misconception. Alzheimer’s is one of the many forms of dementia that is characterised by impairment in mental functioning, decision-making skills, problem-solving and acquiring new skills.
Similarly, lewy-body dementia is also a form of dementia and is impairs a person’s mental processes, yet it is not the same as Alzheimer’s.
The biggest difference between the two is that people with LBD experience sudden or unpredictable discrepancies in their cognitive processes. While those with Alzheimer’s tend to exhibit these symptoms mostly after dark.
The hallmark features of LBD are hallucinations and motor problems whereas Alzheimer’s is mainly signified by memory loss and difficulty in performing everyday tasks.
Fact #2: It is the second most common form of dementia
Despite the fact that lewy body dementia hasn’t received much attention or importance in the past decade, lately it has been categorised as the second most common form of progressive or degenerative dementia, after Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, it affects almost 1.4 million people in the United States. It is also said that about 10 to 15 percent of people that are diagnosed with dementia belong to this category.
Fact #3: It has three common presentations
Lewy body dementia presents itself in the following most common ways;
Some individuals will initially start out with a movement disorder which often leads to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. They will later develop dementia which is diagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.
Some people will display signs and symptoms of memory or cognitive disorder which may seem like Alzheimer’s, but over time their representation will lead to a diagnosis of lewy body dementia.
Lastly, some a few individuals may exhibit neuropsychiatric symptoms like some behavioural issues and hallucinations which are also indicative of LBD.
Fact #4: It is not easy to diagnose LBD
Like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, lewy body dementia can only be conclusively diagnosed after performing a biopsy on an individual’s brain once they have died.
However, when diagnosing a living patient with LBD, doctors need to assess the patient’s symptoms, run a few mental and physical evaluations, interview the patient’s family members, and conduct a couple of brain imaging tests like MRI and blood tests.
For the diagnosis to be made, the patient must have dementia which is one of the primary markers of LBD. Alongside that, they should also have other symptoms like delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, fainting spells, fluctuations in heart rates and blood pressure, etc.
Fact #5: It has a set of common symptoms that are typical across all patients
Like any other disease, lewy body dementia also has a few standard symptoms that are truly characteristic of this particular disease.
Some of these include visual hallucinations, i.e. seeing things that are not really present, fluctuations in cognitive processes, behavioural disturbances like depression, delusions, agitation, anxiety etc., impairment in thinking and processing information, and changes in bodily functions like blood pressure, temperature and bowel function.
Fact #6: It shares many similarities with Parkinson’s Disease
Although lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease are two separate diseases that start out differently, they do share some common characteristics.
People diagnosed with LBD can often display symptoms that are mainly characteristic of Parkinson’s disease dementia. These symptoms include hunched postures, rigid muscles, balance problems, etc.
It is also believed that both these diseases have similar biological foundations and someone who has Parkinson’s can be diagnosed with either of the two. One of the major distinctions created by physicians between lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease dementia is the time of occurrence of cognitive symptoms. If cognitive dysfunction occurs within a year of Parkinson’s, it is most likely that the person has LBD.
Fact#7: LBD has no definite cure or treatment
Despite LBD being the second most common form of dementia, there is no way that the disease can be treated and halted from progressing. Those who do have lewy body dementia are prescribed medications that aim to curb the effects of some of its symptoms.
For instance, patients who experience cognitive issues are given cholinesterase inhibitors which is a type of medication that helps enhance brain cell function. And for those who display aspects of Parkinsonism are prescribed levodopa which works towards alleviating the severe effects of the condition.
Non-medical treatment options include physical and occupational therapy designed to help people with LBD manage their condition in better ways. However, regardless of the options, nothing can cure the disease.
Fact #8: Several factors can contribute to the risk of developing LBD
There are quite a few factors that can make a person more prone to being diagnosed with lewy body dementia. According to Hitesh Patel who is a board-certified neurologist from California, age and gender have been observed to be the two main risk factors for LBD where most patients with this disease are men and are between the ages 60-80.
Genetics is also another common risk factor where a family history of Parkinson’s disease and LBD increases the risk of attaining the disease. A few studies have also suggested that adopting a healthy lifestyle prevents the risk of developing age-related dementias, which goes to show that a person’s lifestyle could possibly lead to acquiring lewy body dementia.
Fact #9: LBD is unpredictable in nature
Although everything about this disease is quite a challenge, the most challenging part is that its symptoms can occur without prior warning and at unknown time periods. They tend to be quite erratic in nature.
One can experience periods of vivid hallucinations, mental fog, movement issues and aggressive behaviours for minutes, hours or even days. This fluctuation in symptoms can be caused by many factors, however, regardless of that, it is almost impossible to assess how far the condition has progressed or worsened in an individual.
Fact #10: LBD can significantly affect your sleep
Among many other things, lewy body dementia can greatly disrupt your sleep and can lead to specific sleep conditions that can disproportionately affect people with this disease. Research and studies show that majority of the people with lewy body dementia go through the struggle of dealing with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) which is a condition that makes people speak, move and make gestures during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of their sleep. This can cause many difficulties in sleeping and may also lead to insomnia and other sleep-related disorders.
LBD is indeed a dire condition which needs an early diagnosis to prevent its symptoms from worsening.