Dementia with Lewy bodies

What is dementia with Lewy bodies?

Dementia with Lewy bodies is caused by the degeneration and death of nerve cells in the brain. The name comes from the presence of abnormal round structures, called Lewy bodies, which develop inside nerve cells. It is thought that these may contribute to the death of the brain cells. They are named after the doctor who first wrote about them. Dementia with Lewy bodies differs from Alzheimer's disease in that the progression of the disease is sometimes more rapid. It is often but not always, associated with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as muscle stiffness and problems walking.

Symptoms

Symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies include:

  • Difficulty with concentration and attention, sometimes causing drowsiness
  • Extreme confusion
  • Difficulty with judging distances, often resulting in falls.

There are also three symptoms of which two must be present to make a diagnosis of this specific dementia:

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Tremors and stiffness similar to that seen in Parkinson's disease
  • Changing mental states. The person may be very coherent and clear at one point and then confused and disoriented at another. Usually this change occurs over a period of hours or even minutes.

Some people who have dementia with Lewy bodies may also experience delusions and/or depression.

Is there treatment available?

Like all other dementias, there is no cure for dementia with Lewy bodies. Some of the symptoms above can be helped or reduced with medication but sometimes these medications can make other symptoms worse for the person. All medications need continuous review by a specialist.

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