When most people think of dementia they probably think of Alzheimer’s disease. Since Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and one of the biggest risk factors for developing AD is age, new developments to combat the disease are often in the news.
There are, however, other types of dementia that are just as devastating as Alzheimer’s disease and they are not necessarily rare. The dementia we’ll focus on in this article is Lewy body dementia. I frequently hear from spouses or adult children of people who have developed LBD. It saddens me that there’s little news to relate to them about research to combat the disease.
According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, LBD is highly under-diagnosed, partly because it shares some characteristics with the more common Alzheimer’s disease and partly due to lack of awareness of this different type of dementia. LBD can be confused with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, and can actually accompany Parkinson’s disease.
What is Lewy body dementia?
LBD is a progressive brain disease. It’s also the second most common cause of neurodegenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s. Lewy body dementia is a ‘spectrum disorder,’ meaning it can occur alone or in combination with Parkinson’s disease (Parkinson’s disease with Lewy bodies), or even co-exist with Alzheimer’s disease.
The LBDA states that LBD accounts for up to 20% of dementia cases in the US. That means that up to 1.3 million cases of LBD are diagnosed in the U.S. alone, with only 30-50 percent of LBD cases being accurately diagnosed, even in dementia centers.
What are some differences between Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia?
- In early Alzheimer's, memory loss is prominent, while in LBD memory remains fairly intact. Attention and alertness are reduced in LBD, which can mimic memory problems.
- Problem-solving skills are also highly impaired. Alzheimer's disease is commonly thought to be caused by changes in the brain called plaques and tangles. LBD features the presence of Lewy bodies, which are misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins.
- People with LBD experience changes in movement that can resemble Parkinson's disease, such as slow, stiff movements, changes in gait or posture and tremor. With Alzheimer's disease, movement remains normal until the advanced stages.
- While someone in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's may experience hallucinations, visual hallucinations are common in LBD early in the disorder.
- REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a risk factor for Lewy body dementias, but not for Alzheimer's disease. A person with RBD often physically acts out dreams, which can be frightening, and they sometimes injure themselves or their bed partners. This behavior may begin years, or even decades, before LBD dementia appears.
What dementia symptoms are specific to Lewy body dementia?