A Complete Guide to Lewy Body Dementia: What You Need to Know

Lewy Body Dementia

According to the National Institute on Aging, Lewy body dementia (LBD) impacts over one million individuals across the United States. While this condition commonly starts at age 50 or older, younger people can have the condition. Lewy body dementia is a condition associated with irregular deposits of the alpha-synuclein protein in the brain. 

The Lewy bodies are actually the deposits that cause chemicals in the brain to be altered. These changes then result in complications associated with movement, thinking, mood, and behavior. Lewy body dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a progressive brain disorder that shares many symptoms and even overlaps with other diseases, particularly Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease

As a progressive type of dementia, the symptoms of Lewy body will start slowly and 5 progressively worsen over time. Continue reading to learn more about the condition and how Long Island Alzheimer’s and Dementia Center helps families impacted by all types of dementia. 

Lewy Body Dementia Symptoms

People with Lewy body dementia typically demonstrate symptoms impacting movement, cognition, behavior, and sleep. The symptoms can vary from person to person, and someone with the condition may not demonstrate every symptom. If you're a caregiver to a loved one with LBD and you notice any major or sudden change in behavior or abilities, you should report it to their doctor. Some of the most common symptoms experienced by those with LBD include the following:

  • Visual hallucinations can be one of the initial symptoms of LBD and will often recur. Your loved one may hallucinate seeing people, animals, and shapes that aren't there. Touch, smell, and sound hallucinations are also a possibility. 

  • LBD symptoms often include poor regulation of body functions. The digestive process, blood pressure, sweating, and pulse are all regulated by a part of the nervous system  that is impacted by the condition. This often results in falls, dizziness, and bowel issues, like constipation. 
  • The individual may experience Parkinsonian signs of movement, such as rigid muscles, slowed movement, a shuffling walk, or tremors. These movement conditions may result in increased falls. 
  • The cognitive symptoms of LBD can mirror Alzheimer's, such as poor attention, confusion, memory loss, and visual-spatial problems.
  • Problems sleeping that manifest in the individual physically acting out dreams while asleep. 
  • The individual with LBD may experience depression and develop apathy. 
  • They may suffer from attention fluctuations, disorganized speech, long naps during the day, and long periods of staring off into space. 

What Are the Causes of Lewy Body Dementia? 

While the exact cause of LBD isn't known, we do know it's characterized by the irregular buildup of proteins that create masses called Lewy bodies. This exact protein is also associated with Parkinson's disease. Individuals with Lewy bodies in their brain will also have tangles and plaques that are associated with Alzheimer's disease. 

It's known the accumulation of Lewy bodies is associated with a decrease of certain brain neurons that create two vital neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that serve as messengers between brain cells. One of these messengers is dopamine, which plays a key role in cognition, motivation, behavior, movement, mood, and sleep. The other messenger is acetylcholine, which is critical in learning and memory. 

What Are the Risk Factors for LBD?

Some of the known risk factors for LBD include, 

  • Sex. The condition impacts more men than women. 
  • Age. People who are over the age of 60 are at a significantly higher risk
  • Diseases. Conditions like Parkinson's disease and REM sleep disorders have been linked to a higher likelihood of developing LBD. 
  • Family history. People who have family members with Parkinson's or Lewy body dementia are at higher risk. 

Diagnosing Lewy Body Dementia 

People with LBD typically experience a decline in thinking and cognitive function that looks similar to Alzheimer's. Over time, however, they may develop other symptoms that more closely align their condition with Lewy bodies. These symptoms include:

  • Repeated visual hallucinations
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • Parkinsonian symptoms
  • Fluctuating thinking and alertness function

There is no one test that can diagnose LBD. Instead, physicians will make a diagnosis by ruling out other conditions that may result in similar symptoms and signs. Common tests may include:

  • A physical and neurological examination. The physician can look for signs of strokes, Parkinson's disease, tumors, and other conditions that may impact the physical and brain function. Neurological examinations may test muscle tone, reflexes, sense of touch, eye movements, strength, balance, walking, etc.
  • The mental ability assessment can test the thinking and memory skills. 
  • Brain scans can be used to rule out other conditions and suggest different types of dementia. 
  • Blood tests can be used to rule out problems that may affect brain function. 
  • Heart tests can be used to check blood flow, which may be an indicator of Lewy body dementia. 

Contact Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center 

At Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia (LIAD) Center, we help families impacted by all types of dementia. We offer hands-on day programs, caregiver support groups, respite services, transportation and more. 

Contact LIAD Center to learn more about what we do or to get involved.