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  • Kristina Walker

Series: What's Underneath the Dementia Umbrella?

Part 1: An Overview of Lewy Body Dementia

In this series we will take an in-depth look at the various types of dementia and how to improve care in a long-term care setting. There are several lesser known dementias affecting our seniors. As part of their care team we need to educate ourselves on how to better understand and meet the needs of those living with these dementias.

What is Lewy Body Dementia?

If you ask someone, even a healthcare professional, “What is Lewy Body Dementia (LBD),” the answer you will most often hear is, “It’s a type of dementia.” LBD is the second most neurodegenerative form of dementia, yet we often fall short on how to recognize and support those living with LBD. The LBD Association offers a plethora of vital information. Here is their overview of this form of dementia:

LBD is not a rare disease. It affects an estimated 1.4 million individuals and their families in the United States. Because LBD symptoms can closely resemble other more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is currently widely underdiagnosed. Many doctors or other medical professionals still are not familiar with LBD.

LBD is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses. LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The earliest symptoms of these two diseases differ, but reflect the same underlying biological changes in the brain. Over time, people with both diagnoses will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral symptoms.

While it may take more than a year or two for enough symptoms to develop for a doctor to diagnose LBD, it is critical to pursue a formal diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows for important early treatment that may extend quality of life and independence.

LBD is a multisystem disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach. This approach involves a team of physicians from different specialties who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms. Many people with LBD enjoy significant improvement of their symptoms with a comprehensive approach to treatment, and some can have remarkably little change from year to year.

Some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Who was Lewy?

LBD is named for the scientist, Friederich H. Lewy, who discovered the abnormal protein deposits responsible for the dementia. These proteins deposit in the brain stem and spread throughout the rest of the brain, even into the cerebral cortex. In addition to depleting dopamine, these proteins exhaust acetylcholine in the brain, compromising perception, thinking and behavior.

Our next newsletter will continue to delve into how to support and care for residents with LBD in a long term care setting. In the meantime, you can learn more about this disease from the Lewy Body Dementia Association and the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

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