Dementia with Lewy Bodies (also known as DLB or Lewy Bodies Dementia) is the third most common type of dementia, only after Alzheimer’s disease (the most common) and vascular dementia. DLB accounts for approximately 10-25% of dementia cases. Most patients receive a DLB diagnosis sometime after age 50, and more males receive the diagnosis than females. While many of the symptoms involve common signs associated with aging (such as bouts of confusion or sleep difficulties), it is a good idea to understand the warning signs for DLB and to discuss anything that may be suspicious with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
DLB is a type of dementia that is progressive and that leads to a sharp decline in reasoning and independent thinking/functioning. Scientists believe DLB is the result of abnormal microscopic deposits that collect in the brain and damage brain cells over a period of time. Unlike other forms of dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease), memory loss or impairment is not the first or most recognizable symptom of DLB. Instead, persistent confusion or delusions are linked to DLB, as are other symptoms.
Because Lewy bodies are present in other brain diseases and disorders (including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, for instance), it is important to understand the symptoms specific to DLB (that may overlap with other diseases and disorders) and to seek a medical diagnosis as quickly as possible when DLB is suspected.
Plain and simple, our brains age along with the rest of our body – meaning memory slips and occasional confusion are not necessarily anything to be particularly concerned about – but frequent expression of certain symptoms should raise a red flag and result in a conversation with the family doctor.
These symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Changes in ability to think and/or reason
- Levels of alertness and confusion that vary significantly from hour to hour or day to day
- Presence of hallucinations and delusions
- Problem(s) with balance, muscle rigidity, or posture
- Trouble assimilating and interpreting visual information
Brain or Physical Changes
Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of the protein known as alpha-synuclein. In a DLB patient’s brain, these Lewy bodies build up in various parts of the brain that regulate important functions such as behavior, reasoning, cognition, or movement. People who present with Lewy bodies in the brain often have plaques and tangles as well, which are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Causes and/or Risk Factors
A handful of risk factors increase the likelihood of developing DLB. Some of these risk factors include:
- Being 60 years or older
- Being male
- Having a member of the family with DLB or Parkinson’s disease
- Having frequent bouts of depression
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care
Because the symptoms of DLB and other diseases or disorders (such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, specifically) so closely resemble each other, DLB is often misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed. Research continues to develop in the field of DLB, and patients (as well as families) are encouraged to advocate where they think a misdiagnosis has occurred. Even so, DLB is not considered a rare form of dementia as approximately 1.4 million patients have been affected by it in the United States alone. Patients diagnosed with DLB live for an average of 8 years after symptoms present.