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What is Lewy Body Dementia?

Lewy body dementia (LBD), is a common form of dementia combining Alzheimer's-like cognitive symptoms and Parkinson's-like motor issues. A neurodegenerative disease, it is the second most prevalent type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Combining cognitive symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s with the motor features of Parkinson’s, LBD is estimated to affect 1.3 million people in the United States.

The disease’s name refers to abnormal protein deposits that occur in the brain discovered by neurologist, Dr. Frederic Lewy. These “Lewy body inclusions” are present in both Parkinson’s disease and LBD. Lewy body dementia refers to both Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Parkinson’s disease Dementia, which are pathologically similar.

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Diagnosing Lewy Body Dementia

It is important to diagnose LBD, as it has some unique features to be taken into consideration in one’s treatment.

Like most other types of dementia, LBD is conclusively diagnosed by examination of brain tissue after death.  However during life, the diagnosis is made based on the clinical presentation and the presence of the core features of the disease.

Due to unfamiliarity in the medical community and the way in which symptoms sometimes manifest, LBD is often underdiagnosed. It is common for those with LBD to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease only to have treatment reveal greater cognitive deficiencies and hallucinations, leading to a later but more accurate LBD diagnosis.

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Common Lewy Body Dementia Symptoms:

The hallmark of LBD is vivid, visual hallucinations.  Other core features include:

  • Changes in thinking and reasoning, often accompanied by memory loss
  • Shuffling gait, hunched posture, balance problems and rigid muscles (symptoms generally associated with Parkinson’s Disease)
  • Wide fluctuations between confusion and alertness,  varying from day-to-day of at different times of day
  • Problems processing visual information
  • REM Sleep disorders, sometimes accompanied by irregular schedules and acting out dreams (occasionally violently)
  • Failures of the autonomic nervous system

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Lewy Body Dementia Causes & Prevention

Very little is understood about what causes LBD. Some researchers are studying a possible genetic factor, but no conclusive links have been identified.  As with any kind of dementia, a healthy lifestyle is believed to reduce chances of developing the disease.

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Treatment of Lewy Body Dementia

While there is no single cure for LBD at this time, there are symptomatic treatments available. The Parkinsonian symptoms in LBD are caused by the depletion of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. The disruption of perception, thinking and behavior is caused by the depletion of the brain chemical acetylcholine.  Drugs targeting these neurotransmitters are commonly used to treat the motor, behavioral and cognitive issues respectively. It is very important to monitor these and work closely with your doctor to ensure effectiveness and proper dosages.  Special care is taken in the prescribing of symptomatic treatments as patients with LBD can have severe reactions to certain types of medications.

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Other Types of Dementia

Types of Dementia

Return to the main Types of Dementia page

Alzheimer's Disease

The sixth leading cause of death domestically, Alzheimer's affects more than 5 million individuals in the United States alone. Learn more here.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

A form of dementia connected with repetetive head traumas and concussions. Learn more here.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is often responsible for early-onset dementia cases. Learn more here.

Parkinson's Disease

Symptoms such as muscle rigidity, tremors and changes in speech and gait are common. Learn more here. 

Vascular Dementia

Causes a decline in cognitive skills due to brain cell damage due to circulatory problems. Learn more here.

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