What is Lewy body dementia?
Lewy body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in the brain regions involved in thinking, memory and movement (motor control).
Lewy body dementia causes a progressive decline in mental abilities. People with Lewy body dementia may experience visual hallucinations, and changes in alertness and attention. Other effects include Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms such as rigid muscles, slow movement and tremors.
How common is Lewy body dementia?
Lewy body dementia is common. The only other form of degenerative dementia that is more common than LBD is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of Lewy body dementia?
The common symptoms of Lewy body dementia are:
- Visual hallucinations. Hallucinations may be one of the first symptoms, and they often recur. They may include seeing shapes, animals or people that aren’t there. Sound (auditory), smell (olfactory) or touch (tactile) hallucinations are possible.
- Movement disorders. Signs of Parkinson’s disease (parkinsonian symptoms), such as slowed movement, rigid muscles, tremor or a shuffling walk may occur.
- Poor regulation of body functions (autonomic nervous system). Blood pressure, pulse, sweating and the digestive process are regulated by a part of the nervous system that is often affected by Lewy body dementia. This can result in dizziness, falls and bowel issues such as constipation.
- Cognitive problems. You may experience thinking (cognitive) problems similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease, such as confusion, poor attention, visual-spatial problems and memory loss.
- Sleep difficulties. You may have rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder, which can cause you to physically act out your dreams while you’re asleep.
- Fluctuating attention. Episodes of drowsiness, long periods of staring into space, long naps during the day or disorganized speech are possible.
- You may experience depression sometime during the course of your illness.
- You may have loss of motivation.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes Lewy body dementia?
Dementia with Lewy bodies is caused by clumps of protein forming inside brain cells. These abnormal deposits are called Lewy bodies.
These deposits are also found in people with Parkinson’s disease, and they build up in areas of the brain responsible for functions such as thinking, visual perception and muscle movement.
It’s not clear why the deposits develop and how exactly they damage the brain. It’s thought that part of the problem is the proteins affecting the brain’s normal functions by interfering with signals sent between brain cells.
Dementia with Lewy bodies usually occurs in people with no family history of the condition, although there have been very rare cases that seem to run in families.
What increases my risk for Lewy body dementia?
There are many risk factors for Lewy body dementia, such as:
- Being older than 60
- Being male
- Having a family member with Lewy body dementia or Parkinson’s disease
Research has indicated that depression is also associated with Lewy body dementia.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is Lewy body dementia diagnosed?
There’s no single test for dementia with Lewy bodies.
The following may be needed to make a diagnosis:
- An assessment of symptoms – for example, whether there are typical symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies
- An assessment of mental abilities –this will usually involve a number of tasks and questions
- Blood tests to rule out conditions with similar symptoms
- Brain scans, such as an MRI scan, CT scan or a single photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) dopamine transporter scan – these can detect signs of dementia or other problems with the brain
How is Lewy body dementia treated?
There’s currently no cure for dementia with Lewy bodies or any treatment that will slow it down.
But there are treatments that can help control some of the symptoms, possibly for several years.
- Medicines to reduce hallucinations, confusion, drowsiness, movement problems and disturbed sleep
- Therapies such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy for problems with movement, everyday tasks, and communication
- Psychological therapies, such as cognitive stimulation (activities and exercises designed to improve memory, problem-solving skills and language ability)
Dementia activities, such as memory cafés (drop-in sessions for people with memory problems and their carers to get support and advice)
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Lewy body dementia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Lewy body dementia:
- Asking friends or other family members for help when you need it. Consider in-home health services to help you care for the person with Lewy body dementia.
- Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.
- Learning as much about the disease as you can. Ask questions of doctors, social workers and others on the care team.
- Joining a support group.
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. Provide reassurance during times of confusion, delusions or hallucinations.
Caregivers may need to adapt the following tips to individual situations:
- Speak clearly and simply. Maintain eye contact and speak slowly, in simple sentences, and don’t rush the response. Present only one idea or instruction at a time. Use gestures and cues, such as pointing to objects.
- Encourage exercise. Benefits of exercise include improvements in physical function, behavior and depression symptoms. Some research shows exercise may slow cognitive decline in people with dementia.
- Provide mind stimulation. Participating in games, crossword puzzles and other activities that involve using thinking skills may help slow mental decline in people with dementia.
- Establish a nighttime ritual. Behavior issues may worsen at night. Create calming bedtime rituals without the distraction of television, meal cleanup and active family members. Leave night lights on to prevent disorientation.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: June 29, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019
Dementia with Lewy bodies. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/dementia-with-Lewy-bodies/Pages/Introduction.aspx#diagnosis. Accessed June 29, 2017.
Lewy body dementia. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/Lewy-body-dementia/home/ovc-20200344. Accessed June 29, 2017.
10 Things You Should Know about LBD. https://www.lbda.org/content/10-things-you-should-know-about-lbd. Accessed June 29, 2017.