Lewy bodies are masses of protein that can develop in the brain. Lewy bodies are named after the scientist that discovered them. When these protein masses accumulate, they can cause problems with your thinking ability, memory, movement, mood, and behavior. These problems can make it difficult for a person to carry out daily tasks or taking care of themselves, a condition called dementia.
One of the most common types of dementia after Alzheimer’s is lewy body dementia (LBD). It usually affects people who are 50 years or above. There are two types of LBD:
- Dementia with Lewy bodies: This begins when a person finds it difficult to move their body. This is followed by hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there), thinking, changes in behavior, and memory problems within a year.
- Parkinson’s disease dementia: This type first causes difficulty in movement. Trouble with memory occurs much later in the disease.
Lewy body dementia has no cure. However there are ways to ease symptoms. Scientists are also getting better at understanding the differences between LBD and other conditions.
How LBD is different from Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s
LBD may not result to short-term memory loss like Alzheimer’s. People with both conditions have trouble with thinking and paying attention. However, those symptoms are recurrent in LBD. In the first few years someone has LBD, the disease can also cause hallucinations. Alzheimer’s disease don’t usually cause hallucinations until the later stages. People with LBD exhibit REM sleep behavior disorder, where they act out their dreams and make intense movements when they’re asleep.
Parkinson’s disease and LBD both cause problems with movement. However, most people with Parkinson’s don’t have problems with their thinking and memory (dementia) until the very later stages of their disease.
People with LBD also need different medications for their condition compared to the ones that treat Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
Causes of LBD
Lewy bodies consists of a protein called alpha-synuclein. They prevent your brain from making the right amount of two essential chemicals when they build up. One of them, called acetylcholine, affects your memory and learning. The other, called dopamine, affects your movement, sleep, and your mood.
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Scientists are uncertain as to why some people get LBD and others don’t. They are not sure of what causes Lewy bodies accumulate in the brain.
However, some health conditions worsen your chances of getting the condition. People with Parkinson’s disease or REM sleep behavior disorder have a higher risk of LBD.
Symptoms of LBD
Warning signs of LBD varies from person to person. They often depend on the type of LBD you have. They might be mild or deteriorate at times. LBD causes changes in your mood, sleep, movement, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms include:
- Stooped posture
- Falling a lot due to lack of balance
- Slow walk
- Stiff muscles
- Tremors or shaking hands
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- REM sleep behavior disorder
- Sleeping a lot during the daytime
- The urge to move your legs when you’re at rest, called restless legs syndrome
- Staring into space
- Difficulty judging distances, remembering things, and planning
- Losing concentration
No test that can diagnose LBD. It’s challenging for doctors to identify LBD especially in the early stages because it’s similar to other types of dementia. So doctors often try to rule out other health problems that might cause the same symptoms.
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Your doctor might do a few tests:
- Ask you about your medical history and perform a physical exam
- Blood tests that check the levels of hormones or vitamins in your body.
- CT scan or MRI scan of your brain to spot changes
- Tests to measure your language skills, thinking ability and memory.
There are yet no medications that can stop or reverse Lewy body dementia. However medications can help relieve symptoms for a few month. These drugs include:
- Drugs to treat thinking problems, such as donepezil (Aricept) and rivastigmine (Exelon).
- Drugs to improve movement such as Levodopa (Dopar, Laradopa)
- Drugs to ease difficulty in sleeping such as Melatonin or clonazepam (Klonopin).
There are other forms of therapy apart from drugs that can ease LBD symptoms:
- Physical therapy can guide you through exercises that can improve your movements and balance.
- Psychotherapy: For depression, anxiety and other mood problems psychotherapy would help handle emotional problems.
- Occupational therapy: This can help you learn easier ways to handle tasks.
Source: Clinical OMICs, Webmd