Lewy body dementia
Lewy body dementia
Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer's disease, causes a progressive decline in mental abilities.
It may also cause visual hallucinations, which generally take the form of objects, people or animals that aren't there. This can lead to unusual behavior such as having conversations with deceased loved ones.
Another indicator of Lewy body dementia may be significant fluctuations in alertness and attention, which may include daytime drowsiness or periods of staring into space. And, like Parkinson's disease, Lewy body dementia can result in rigid muscles, slowed movement and tremors.
In Lewy body dementia, protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in regions of your brain involved in thinking, memory and movement (motor control).
Lewy body dementia signs and symptoms may include:
The cause of Lewy body dementia isn't known, but the disorder may be related to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.
Although the cause of Lewy body dementia isn't clear, several factors appear to increase the risk of developing the disease. They include:
Lewy body dementia is progressive. Signs and symptoms worsen, causing:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first bring your symptoms to the attention of your family doctor, who may refer you to a doctor trained in dementia — usually a doctor trained in brain and nervous system conditions (neurologist) or mental health conditions (psychiatrist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot to talk about, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To be diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, you must have experienced a progressive decline in your ability to think, as well as two of the following:
In addition, one or more of the following features are considered supportive of the diagnosis of Lewy body dementia:
No single test can diagnose Lewy body dementia. Instead, doctors diagnose your condition through ruling out other conditions that may cause similar signs and symptoms. Tests may include:
Neurological and physical examination
Assessment of mental abilities
Your results are then compared with those of people from a similar age and education level. This can help distinguish normal from abnormal cognitive aging, and may help identify patterns in cognitive functions that provide clues to the underlying condition.
Your doctor may order a sleep evaluation to assess for REM sleep behavior disorder or an autonomic function test to look for signs of heart rate and blood pressure instability.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment can be challenging, and there's no cure for Lewy body dementia. Instead, doctors treat the individual symptoms.
Because antipsychotic drugs can worsen Lewy body dementia symptoms, it might be helpful to initially try nondrug approaches, such as:
Lifestyle and home remedies
Each person with Lewy body dementia and other dementias experience symptoms and progression differently. Consequently, techniques to care for each person vary. Caregivers may need to adapt the following tips to individual situations:
People with dementia often experience a worsening of their symptoms when they are frustrated or anxious. The following techniques may help promote relaxation.
Coping and support
People with Lewy body dementia often experience a mixture of emotions, such as confusion, frustration, anger, fear, uncertainty, grief and depression.
You can help a person cope with the disease by listening, reassuring the person that he or she still can enjoy life, being supportive and positive, and doing your best to help the person retain dignity and self-respect.
If you're a caregiver for someone with Lewy body dementia, watch the person closely to make sure he or she doesn't fall, lose consciousness or react negatively to medications. You can should also reassure the person during times of confusion, delusions or hallucinations.
Looking after yourself
Many people with Lewy body dementia and their families can benefit from counseling or local support groups. Contact your local agencies on health or aging to get connected with support groups, doctors, resources, referrals, home care agencies, supervised living facilities, a telephone help line and educational seminars.
Last Updated: 2013-04-17
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