“Lewy Bodies” are abnormal proteins that show up in the parts of the brain the handle memory, sleep, movement, and “automatic” bodily functions like heart rate and blood pressure. Some people start out with difficulty moving and tremors and are initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Over time, they develop memory problems. In these cases, clinicians may use the term “Parkinson’s Disease Dementia” to describe the illness. Other people start out with memory problems and then later develop movement problems. These people are given the diagnosis “Lewy Body Dementia” or “Dementia with Lewy Bodies.” Most experts agree that these diseases are really two sides of the same coin.
Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) can be tricky to diagnose, especially if the memory problems start first. The brains of people with LBD are also low in acetylcholine. This is why they often respond well to traditional acetylcholinesterase (ah-see-tel-col-een-es-ter-aze) inhibitors like rivastigmine (Exelon). And why a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease may be given at first, until the other symptoms start appearing. Other symptoms that help me to decide if I am dealing with LBD include:
- acting out dreams (I find this out from the bed partner)
- confusion that seems to come and go (again, information that I find out from people close to the person with dementia)
- problems with “automatic” functions like blood pressure control
- movement problems including falls and tremors
- hallucinations, or seeing/hearing things that others do not. Hallucinations are usually visual and are not always disturbing to the person.
The Lewy Body Dementia Association has an excellent website with much more information. Please click here to go to the site.