What Is Lewy Body Dementia And How Does It Affect People

By Danni Peck

Updated January 02, 2019

Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

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Dementia is quite a scary concept. The idea of losing your memories, cognitive skills, and all other brain functions is a bit unfathomable to some, and yet it happens to many people in their later years. Dementia is an umbrella term for various diseases that can affect the mind. The most infamous form of dementia is Alzheimer's, but Lewy body dementia, or LBD, is not far behind.

What Is Lewy Body Dementia?

LBD involves abnormal protein deposits, which are named Lewy bodies. The name of this protein comes from Fritz Lewy, a doctor who discovered the proteins and how they affect the mind. Lewy bodies will develop in nerve cells, usually in the areas of the brain that are associated with memory, movement, and thinking skills. This leads to a decline in mental functions.

LBD typically occurs in about 3-5 cases in 100,000, and LBD is also more prevalent in men than women. While it is rare, it's still a terrifying disease and one that many people want to find a cure for.

The Cause Of Lewy Body Dementia

The exact cause is still out there. There may be a genetic reason for LBD, but the exact science is still not studied enough yet. If you have a family member with LBD, it may be worth it to see if you are at risk. Knowing you may be prone to LBD may also help you accomplish all your life goals before the time comes.

Lewy Body Dementia Symptoms

Patients with LBD can experience various symptoms.

  • These may come first, and they are usually chronic. When we think of hallucinations, we think of seeing things that aren't there, but we also may smell or touch things that aren't there either. No matter what the cause, hallucinations are a good reason to see a doctor.
  • You may feel slower than usual. You may tremble or shuffle when you walk. Parkinson's disease goes hand in hand with LBD.
  • You may have problems with basic bodily functions. You may sweat more than usual, feel constipated all the time, have trouble with digestion, feel dizzy, and fall.
  • You may have trouble sleeping. Usually, this is due to you trying to act out dreams while sleeping, leading to more energy used.
  • Cognitive issues are quite common with LBD. You may have difficulty thinking or remembering people or events. You may have a short attention span. You may feel confused all the time.
  • Those with LBD may feel depressed. Not just because of the fact they have the disease, but because of how it affects the brain. There may be a feeling of apathy and the loss of all motivation.

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As you probably have assumed, LBD gets worse as it progresses. Your memory gets worse until you may not remember anything. You may be more prone to injury, and soon, you may have to have your family or other people support you. Death usually occurs in eight years.

Diagnosing LBD

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above, it would be wise for you to seek a doctor. Diagnosing LBD requires the patient to have a progressive loss in thinking, as well as two other symptoms of the following:

  • Parkinson's disease-like symptoms
  • Hallucinations
  • A cognitive function that is inconsistent
  • Acting out your dreams while sleeping

You may have a blood test to determine if you have LBD or not. There are biomarkers in your blood that may be able to detect if you have LBD. This isn't the smoking gun that will tell you whether you have LBD, but it will be used in addition to other tests.

LBD is quite rare, so many parts of the diagnostic process will involve ruling out any other disease. There are other reasons why you may have a loss of cognitive functions, and the doctor will be sure to rule out anything they can.

Prevention

So far, there is no sure way to prevent LBD from happening. A healthy diet with plenty of exercise may be good for your brain, but it's not a way to prevent LBD if you are prone to it.

Treatment

As usual, there is no cure for LBD. No pill yet exists to stop the progression of symptoms or reverse them. Instead, there are ways to treat the individual symptoms. These are done by:

Medication

There are medications to help the effects of LBD. You may be prescribed rivastigmine, which can help improve your cognitive function. It works by increasing neurotransmitters in your brain, which is linked to memory and other brain functions. It can also reduce hallucinations. However, this medication is only FDA approved for Alzheimer's.

Another medication that may be prescribed is carbidopa-levodopa, which can help with movement, reducing the risk of falling and slow movement. Ironically, the side effects may include confusion and hallucinations, so definitely monitor usage with the doctor.

There may be other medications as well. If you're having sleep problems, a sleep medication may be prescribed.

When taking medications, it's important to talk to your doctor regularly. Some medications may make other problems worse, so having the right balance of medications to treat all the symptoms is a smart move.

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Lifestyle Changes

In addition to medication, therapy may be a way to deal with your symptoms. Besides therapy to help your memory and functions, people can help their LBD by:

  • Reducing the number of distractions in the environment. This can help those with dementia to function better.
  • Your caregiver or loved ones should be reassuring. Being always corrected may make the person with dementia feel worse. Simply talk to them.
  • Organizing your routines into a simple process. By complicating things, it can make the person with dementia feel worse about themselves.
  • Exercising may improve physical and cognitive functions, and may slow down progression.
  • Mental activities can slow down cognitive decline. Giving the person with LBD a puzzle or another activity can help.
  • Pets can help those with LBD have a better mood or life, as can music or aromatherapy.

Dealing With LBD

If you or a loved one were diagnosed with LBD, it was probably be a terrifying experience. The idea that your cognitive functions will decline over time is scary enough, along with the idea of losing memories that you hold so dearly. You or your loved one may feel upset, angry, depressed, scared, and believe that death is the way out.

If your loved one has LBD, give them support and tell them that they can still live a full life. Encourage them to participate in activities that will keep them functioning for as long as possible, including exercise and puzzles.

Living with or caring for someone with LBD requires you to monitor them at all times. You may look away once, and then you'll discover that the person with LBD fell and injured themselves, or got into another situation.

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Don't burn yourself out if you're the caregiver. There are support groups you can reach out to, along with other caregivers or family members that can help.

It's difficult for both parties. For the family, it's horrible seeing their family members lose all cognitive function. For the person with LBD, it's an awful feeling to know that your golden years will be spent slowly losing your identity.

Seek Help!

If you or a loved one has LBD, it may be wise to seek professional counseling. If you have a loved one diagnosed with LBD, a counselor can teach you how to cope with the depression or frustrations you may feel having a loved one with LBD. You may also learn techniques to treat your loved one as nice as possible. LBD is a disease that requires patience; losing your temper with the loved one is just going to make the problem worse. You need to be compassionate, accepting, and reassuring. For some, this is a natural behavior, for others, they may need professional help to teach them patience.

For the person with LBD, there may be a slew of emotions. A counselor can help the patient accept their fate, and learn techniques to slow down the progression of LBD. One of the side effects of the disease is the loss of motivation. The patient lets the disease consume them, and they are not motivated to exercise or learn ways to slow down its progression. A counselor can motivate you to live the longest life possible while being accepting of your fate.

One day, we may be able to cure LBD, but for now, we must be patient if we have loved ones with it, and those who have it must be willing to slow down its progression.


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