Lewy Body Dementia: Symptoms, treatment, and the challenges that come with caring for a loved one living with this disease.
For this post, we spoke with Nurse Beckie, FirstLight Home Care resident nurse and Certified Dementia Practitioner.
Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a disease associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. These deposits, also known as Lewy bodies, affect chemicals in the brain whose changes, in turn, can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood. It is the third most common cause of dementia, after Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Lewy body dementia affects more than 1 million individuals in the United States. Typically, early signs of this disease begin at age 50 or older, although sometimes younger people have it. Historical data has also shown that LBD affects more men than women.
Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia
LBD is a progressive disease with symptoms starting slowly and worsening over time. How quickly symptoms develop varies greatly from person to person, depending on overall health and age. Symptoms include changes in thinking and reasoning, confusion, visual hallucinations, delusions, trouble interpreting visual information, and memory loss that is significant but less prominent than in Alzheimer’s disease. “Lewy body dementia is often misdiagnosed due to its inconsistent, fluctuating symptoms,” said Nurse Beckie. “Additionally, some indications can be very similar to Parkinson’s Disease, including certain motor symptoms, tremors, stiffness and walking or balance issues.”
Treatment of Lewy Body Dementia
Research has shown that treatment of Lewy body dementia can be challenging, and there is no cure for it. Doctors instead focus treatment on the individual’s symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help with sleep, memory, and hallucinations, or to help reduce issues such as rigid muscles and slow movement. “Patients with LBD can be sensitive to certain medications. There are Alzheimer’s disease medications that can improve alertness and cognition, and may help reduce hallucinations. There are also Parkinson’s medications that may help minimize symptoms such as stiff muscles and slow movement. However, these may also increase confusion, hallucinations, and delusions. Antipsychotic drugs can often worsen Lewy body dementia symptoms.”
A non-drug approach for a loved one living with Lewy body dementia may be best and might include:
- Modifying their environment by reducing clutter and distracting noises to make it easier for them to function
- Speaking in a soothing tone and validating his or her concerns.
- Breaking out tasks into easier steps to help with focus, and developing daily routines to reduce confusion.
“Caregivers of people with Lewy body can help by creating daily, structured routines and by keeping everyday tasks simple. Also, it’s important for caregivers to listen to their loved one, offer reassurance and avoid constantly questioning or correcting them.”
Challenges Caring for Someone with Lewy Body Dementia
As Lewy body dementia advances, your loved one may require more personal assistance due to a decline in thinking and movement abilities. In the later stages of the disease, they may depend entirely on others for assistance and care. You both might need outside support that is customized to your needs and can evolve as the disease progresses.
If you are caring for a family member living with Lewy body dementia, learn how FirstLight’s Dementia Care Program can give you peace of mind and make a difference in your loved one’s care. Our Respite Care Services allow you to take some time off from your responsibilities as the primary caregiver so you can focus on yourself for a while.
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Sources: National Institute on Aging; Lewy Body Dementia Association; Rebecca Rushing (Nurse Beckie) BSN, RN, Certified Dementia Practitioner and Director of Client Care Services for FirstLight Home Care