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5 Signs of Lewy Body Dementia | What Causes It and Who Is at Risk?

5 Signs of Lewy Body Dementia | What Causes It and Who Is at Risk?

This disease affects more men than women and is likely to occur more in people above the age of 60.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) or dementia with Lewy bodies is a common type of progressive dementia. It comes second only to Alzheimer's disease dementia. It is caused when protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in the brain in the regions that are necessary for thinking, memory, and movement, according to Mayo Clinic. It can be debilitating and one of the most famous actors in Hollywood, Robin Williams, died with it.

He had initially been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease since the signs and symptoms like rigid muscles, slow movement, and tremors are similar. His true diagnosis was done only during his autopsy. Lewy body dementia can lead to visual hallucinations and changes in alertness as well as attention. "Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. Can you imagine the pain he felt as he experienced himself disintegrating?" said the actor’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, in an editorial in the journal Neurology.

Causes

This type of dementia is caused due to the abnormal buildup of proteins into masses known as Lewy bodies. This protein is also linked to Parkinson's disease. Those who have Lewy bodies also have the plaques and tangles connected to Alzheimer's disease, according to Mayo Clinic.

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Risk factors

There are a few factors that may increase a person's chances of developing the disease. Those factors include age, sex, and family history. People who are older than 60 are more likely to experience it. It also affects more men than women. It is also more likely to develop in those who had someone in the family suffering from Lewy body dementia or Parkinson's disease.

Symptoms

Those who have this disease may not experience all the symptoms and the severity will vary from person to person. Here are five major symptoms of LBD:

1. Movement disorders

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For some people, the signs might not show up for many years. Others might experience it early into the disease. The individual might experience signs of Parkinson's disease dementia, like muscle rigidity or stiffness, shuffling walk, slow movement, or frozen stance, tremor or shaking while at rest, balance problems and repeated falls, stooping, loss of coordination, smaller handwriting than usual, reduced facial expression, difficulty swallowing, and a weak voice, according to the National Institute on Aging.

2. Visual hallucinations

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At least 80% of people with LBD experience visual hallucinations, i.e. they see things that are not present early into its onset. The visual hallucinations are likely to be realistic and detailed, such as images of children or animals. Other kinds of hallucinations, such as hearing or smelling things that are not present, are less common. However, these too might occur. If these visual and non-visual hallucinations are not disruptive, then treatment may not be required. However, there are chances that they are frightening and the patient might assume a threat to life. In that case, a doctor can prescribe medication.

3. Cognitive problems 

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Those affected by LBD can experience sudden changes in concentration, attention, alertness, and wakefulness daily. The changes might occur throughout the day even. It's possible that the patient just stares into space for a length of time or may seem drowsy and lethargic. The flow of ideas might be disorganized, irrational, or illogical sometimes. They might seem better one day and worse the next. These changes can help is distinguishing LBD from Alzheimer's.

4. Behavioral changes 

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There can be a number of changes in the patient's mood and behavior. From depression to paranoia - Robin Williams had both - it can be anything. Some individuals experience apathy, some agitation while others might be experiencing anxiety. Some people might also have delusions i.e. they may believe that their long-dead relatives are still alive or that their spouse is having an affair or might even experience capgras syndrome, which is when someone believes that a relative or friend has been replaced by an imposter.

5. Sleep disorders

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Some people might act out during their sleep, as per Cleveland Clinic. They could be acting their dreams out while going through a phase of the sleep cycle called rapid eye movement (REM). Some people might be doing this years before they are even diagnosed with LBD. This is a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) and those who experience it usually have frequent movements, such as flailing or punching, as well as yelling or speaking while sleeping. Those who have LBD might find it hard to separate dreams from reality after waking.

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lewy-body-dementia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352025#

https://n.neurology.org/content/87/13/1308.full

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-lewy-body-dementia#signs

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17815-lewy-body-dementia

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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