Lewy Body Dementia

A dementia that can affect movement

Lewy body dementia is caused by the degeneration and death of nerve cells in the brain.

The name comes from the presence of abnormal structures, called Lewy bodies, which develop inside nerve cells and contribute to the death of cells. The main component of these bodies is a protein called alpha-synuclein.

Lewy body dementia is related to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease dementia, as Lewy bodies are also found in people with those conditions.

People with Lewy body dementia will often experience Parkinson’s-like symptoms with stiffness and shakiness, and people with Parkinson’s disease can develop cognitive problems with thinking and problem-solving.

People with Lewy body dementia also have plaques and tangles, which are typical of people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Because of the close relationships between these three types of dementias, it can be difficult to diagnose which form it is. However, hallucinations and sleep problems will often point to Lewy body dementia, which is seen less often in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease dementia is diagnosed when dementia symptoms appear a year or more after Parkinson’s has been diagnosed, while Lewy body dementia is diagnosed when dementia and movement symptoms appear at the same time.

Early symptoms

  • Hallucinations, mostly visual but also including sound, smell, or touch
  • Delusions
  • Problems with movement, including rigid muscles and tremor
  • Difficulties with thinking and problem-solving
  • Confusion and changes to alertness
  • Physically acting out dreams while asleep, and excessive sleepiness
  • Loss of motivation and attention
  • Problems with dizziness or falls

Progression

Each person with Lew body dementia will have a different experience of the illness, as symptoms can vary from person to person, hour to hour. As with most dementias, it is progressive, with symptoms getting worse over time.

Symptoms may include:

  • Worsening early symptoms
  • Memory loss
  • Increasingly aggressive behaviour
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of falls and injury
  • Worsening of movement symptoms such as tremors

The life expectancy of someone with Lewy body dementia is around eight years, but will differ from person to person.

As the disease progresses nursing care will usually be required.

At the end stages of the disease, full time care will be required, either at home or through a dementia wing at an aged care facility.

Causes

The cause of Lewy body dementia is the abnormal buildup of the protein alpha-synuclein and others, which create the Lewy bodies.

Lewy body dementia usually presents in people over the age of 60, and is more often seen in males. People are at a higher risk of developing this form of dementia if one of their family members has had it. However, having a parent with Lewy body dementia does not mean that you will develop it.

Depression is also being considered as a risk factor for Lewy body dementia, with research suggesting that it may have an effect.

Treatment

There is no cure for Lewy body dementia, however there are some medications and therapies that your doctor may consider to assist you to manage the symptoms.

Therapies

Support Services

A number of support services are available to Queenslanders living with frontotemporal dementia, their families, and carers. These include:


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