What Is Lewy Body Dementia?

You may not have heard of Lewy Body Dementia because it tends to be overshadowed by its close relations, Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease. But experts say that this neurological disorder is woefully underdiagnosed, with many doctors uninformed about it. Here's what you need to know about Lewy Body Dementia if a loved one is exhibiting worrisome cognitive symptoms:

Lewy Body Dementia is an umbrella term for two separate conditions. LBD, as it's known in medical parlance, covers both Parkinson's disease dementia and a type of dementia known as dementia with Lewy bodies. The disease was named for a scientist named Friederich H. Lewy, who roughly a century ago discovered that in certain people, abnormal protein deposits in the brain disrupt normal thinking and behavior.

The disease presents differently in different people. There actually are three typical presentations. The first is cognitive or memory problems that look a lot like Alzheimer's. Over time, it becomes apparent that the symptoms are somewhat different from those of Alzheimer's. LBD sufferers have unpredictable levels of cognitive ability; they may be alert at times and not at others; they may suffer changes in their gait; they may hallucinate; and they may even act out their dreams. A second presentation is a movement disorder that usually leads to a diagnosis of Parkinson's, followed by dementia later. A small group of sufferers will first present with hallucinations, behavior problems, and difficulty conquering complicated mental exercises.

Old age is the biggest risk factor for LBD. The condition's onset typically occurs between ages 50 and 85, with slightly more men than women suffering from it. People who have family members with LBD are at greater risk. Scientists feel that leading a healthy lifestyle in terms of nutrition, exercise, and cognitive stimulation can help delay symptoms.

There is no cure for LBD, but medication can help. As with other forms of dementia, the condition is chronic. The average person lives with the disease for five to seven years, but there have been reports of living up to 20 years with it. Medications should be dispensed with great care, because what works well for one person may cause an extremely adverse reaction in another. Medication is also difficult to dispense because of LBD's notoriously fluctuating symptoms.



Lewy Body Dementia Association, www.lbda.org.