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Dementia with Lewy bodies

Posted on December 16, 2009 by DementiaGuide

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies (also commonly referred to as: Lewy body dementia, diffuse Lewy body disease, cortical Lewy body disease, senile dementia of Lewy type, and Lewy body variant of Alzheimer's disease), is the second most common cause of dementia. It is caused by abnormal protein deposits called alpha-synuclein or Lewy bodies, in the brain's nerve cells. Dementia with Lewy bodies is somewhat more prevalent in men than women.

Because of its' similarities with other dementias, Dementia with Lewy bodies can be difficult to diagnose. Often, it is diagnosed through the process of eliminating other diseases and conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as Alzheimer disease and Parkinson's disease. While there are many shared symptoms with Alzheimer's disease (e.g., memory problems, poor judgment, and confusion, an individual with Dementia with Lewy bodies will often present with these symptoms out of order and the onset of this disease is much quicker with more of a decline occurring during the first few months.

The most common presentation of Dementia with Lewy bodies includes:

  1. Dramatic changes in cognitive abilities or understanding and variation in the individual's level of attention and alertness - with fluctuation occurring on a day-to-day and even hour-to-hour basis.

  2. Recurrent visual hallucinations that commonly involve people and/or animals that are not there. It is important to note that the individual might not necessarily find these hallucinations disturbing. Instead, they may find them amusing, or may simply be aware that they are in fact not there.

  3. Parkinsonism, or motor features of Parkinson's disease, such as tremors (shaking), shuffling gait, decreased arm swinging during walking, and blank expression during which time it may be difficult to get them to "snap out of it".

Also, in about fifty percent of cases of Dementia with Lewy bodies, REM sleep behavior disorder is sometimes present. With this disorder, instead of the person's body movement being suppressed, people often act out their dreams while sleeping.

Dementia with Lewy bodies often lasts several years from the onset of symptoms. Although there is no cure, response to cholinesterase inhibitors has been good. There are a number of things that caregivers can do to improve the quality of life for the person through the course of the disease. For example, simplifying their schedule, maintaining a good routine and adapting the home environment and activity level in accordance to the individual's declining cognitive abilities and Parkinsonian symptoms is important. Often trying to talk the person out of a hallucination can lead to increased frustration. Instead, it is usually best to acknowledge what the person is seeing, but to no encourage or agree with it. Whenever possible, the caregiver should attempt to identify or eliminate stimuli that trigger hallucinations.

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