Lewy body dementia (LBD), a progressive brain disease, is the second leading cause of degenerative dementia in the elderly. Although symptoms vary, hallucinations and fluctuating cognition are usually present, along with other features of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or both.
In the early 1900s, the scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These Lewy body proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms. In Lewy body dementia, these abnormal proteins are diffuse throughout other areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, causing disruption of perception, thinking and behavior. Advanced age is considered to be the greatest risk factor, although some cases have been reported much earlier. Having a family member with Lewy body dementia may increase a person’s risk.
The symptoms vary from person and person, and can mimic other diseases, especially in the early years. A diagnosis of probable Lewy body dementia requires progressive cognitive decline plus two of the following: fluctuation of cognition and alertness, recurrent visual hallucinations or Parkinsonian symptoms, such as muscle stiffness and rigidity, frozen stance, balance difficulties and tremors.
There is no cure or definitive treatment for Lewy body dementia. Medical management is complex because of increased sensitivity to many drugs. Clinically proven medications are cholinesterase inhibitors (medications for Alzheimer’s disease) and drugs for Parkinsonian symptoms. However, some medications prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease can adversely affect people with Lewy body dementia. All prescription and over-the-counter drugs should be initiated at the lowest effective dose and managed by a Lewy body dementia-experienced physician.
Lewy Body Dementia Association Inc.:
The Lewy Body Dementia Association is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to raising awareness of Lewy body dementia, assisting caregivers and families, and encouraging scientific advancements.