Lewy Body Dementia: Misunderstood and Underdiagnosed
While Alzheimer’s is the most commonly known cause of dementia in seniors, Lewy body dementia is a lesser known cause of cognitive decline in this age group. This type of dementia occurs when protein deposits called Lewy bodies develop in the areas of the brain responsible for memory, movement, and cognition. Although Lewy body dementia is frequently confused with other conditions, it is not a rare illness. This form of dementia affects an estimated 1.4 million Americans, with many more cases undiagnosed.
Signs of Lewy Body Dementia
This disease is characterized by visual hallucinations. Often, the first sign of the disease is seeing things that aren’t there. Some people also hallucinate sounds, smells, or touches. Lewy body dementia can also manifest with movement difficulties, such as slowness, dizziness, tremors, or falls; difficulty thinking and remembering, as well as short attention span; trouble sleeping; or depression.
Causes of Lewy Body Dementia
While researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes the Lewy bodies that lead to dementia, these proteins are also present in some people who have Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. Lewy body dementia is more likely to develop in people who are older than age 60, who are male, and who have had a family member who also had the disease.
How Lewy Body Dementia Is Treated
Although there is no cure for this disease, treatment can help alleviate the complications it causes and prolong quality of life. Medications that are often helpful include cholinesterase inhibitors, which improve cognition and alertness and may reduce hallucinations; medications for Parkinson’s disease, which can control tremors and help with symptoms like rigid muscles and slow movement; and antipsychotics, which can help with hallucinations and control emotions. Other complications, such as sleep issues, can also be treated with medication. In addition to medication, caregivers can take steps to help the person cope with symptoms, such as establishing a regular routine and encouraging positive communication.
Dementia is one of the most serious chronic conditions that affects senior health. If your or a loved one is experiencing signs of Lewy body dementia, such as hallucinations, memory loss, difficulty focusing, or changes in movement or sleep, talk with your doctor. He or she can examine the symptoms and determine a diagnosis, as well as the most appropriate treatment protocol.