What is lewy body dementia? Early symptoms, diagnosis, and causes

Lewy body dementia is a type of progressive dementia associated with protein deposits called Lewy bodies. These develop in nerve cells in the brain and affect the areas involved with thinking, movement, behavior, memory and mood. It is one of the most common causes of dementia.

Lewy body dementia symptoms

Some common symptoms of lewy body dementia are:

  • Recurring visual hallucinations which can be auditory (sound), olfactory (smell) or tactile (touch).
  • Changes in cognitive capabilities, such as thinking problems, confusion, poor attention, memory loss and reasoning. 
  • Sleep difficulties such as REM sleep behavior disorder which causes you to physically acting out dreams while you’re asleep. 
  • Drowsiness, difficulties with attention span and long periods of staring into space
  • Trouble interpreting visual information
  • Issues with body functions and (autonomic) nervous system, such as blood pressure, sweating, heart rate and digestion. This can result in falls, dizziness, incontinence, and bowel issues.
  • Signs of Parkinson’s disease, such as slow movement, tremor, rigid muscles or shuffling walk.
  • Apathy 

The stages of lewy body dementia

Lewy body dementia causes a progressive decline, which means that its symptoms start to appear slowly and worsen over time. In the early stages of lewy body dementia, symptoms can be mild and they often don’t impact an individual to the extent of it affecting their day-to-day functions. As it advances, lewy body dementia begins to affect thinking and movement abilities, which means that people often require more support. By the time it reaches the later stages, individuals with lewy body dementia are often fully dependent on others for their care. The speed at which symptoms develop varies greatly from person to person, depending on their age, health and the nature of the symptoms themselves.

How is lewy body dementia diagnosed?

When diagnosing Lewy body dementia, medical professionals will consider whether there is a progressive decline in the individual’s ability to think. They will also look for symptoms such as changes in alertness, visual hallucinations, signs of Parkinson’s disease, REM sleep behavior disorder, and issues with bodily functions (blood pressure, heart rate, poor regulation of body temperature etc.). Some tests may include a brain scan, an assessment of mental abilities, sleep evaluation, blood test or a heart examination.

What causes lewy body dementia?

The exact cause for lewy body dementia is unknown. What researchers do know is that it is characterized by an abnormal buildup of proteins known as Lewy bodies, which are also associated with Parkinson’s disease. People who have Lewy bodies in their brains also have the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s. There are however a number of risk factors that seem to increase the risk of developing lewy body dementia, including age (people over the age of 60 are at greater risk), gender (lewy body dementia affects more men than women), and family history (having a family member with lewy body dementia or Parkinson’s are at greater risk of developing one of the two), even though lewy body dementia is not considered a genetic disease.  

Is lewy body dementia hereditary?

Most people who are diagnosed with lewy body dementia have no family history of the disorder, and researchers have not yet been conclusive in identifying genes linked to lewy body dementia. 

Treatment for lewy body dementia? 

There is no cure for lewy body dementia, however, there are many options for treating the condition that can improve symptoms including medication. They cannot however slow or stop the brain cell damage caused by lewy bodies. 

The most important thing to consider when caring for or supporting an individual with dementia is that the care is person-centered. This means that it should focus on them specifically – including their personal history, relationships, preferences, and needs – rather than just on their condition. 

There are a number of person-centered activities and therapies that do not involve medication that can help a person living with dementia maintain their abilities and quality of life. Such as occupational therapy, or meaningful activities that help with cognitive stimulation. 

The Tovertafel, for example, is a great tool for helping stimulate cognitive activity. Developed specifically for seniors living with dementia and other audiences such as children with special needs, the Tovertafel works by projecting interactive lights onto flat surfaces in the form of games. The games are scientifically proven to stimulate physical activity, social interaction, and cognition. This helps promote moments of happiness and connection for people living with dementia and those caring for them. Many care facilities and caregivers worldwide are already experiencing what the Tovertafel can do to help families engage with their loved ones and improve their well-being.

How to deal with (lewy body) dementia as a family member?

Caring for someone with dementia can be difficult. However, learning about the condition, as well as receiving the right support can make a huge difference in helping to manage the condition. 

Some caregivers find that support groups are a great help, enabling them to share their concerns, questions, experiences, and tips. Many organizations have in-person and online support groups for people with lewy body dementia and their loved ones.

There are also lots of ways that care institutions and caregivers can help improve the quality of care and life for those living with lewy body dementia. Such as daily physical activity, social interaction, and more. Tools such as the Tovertafel can be instrumental in increasing positive emotions and helping make day-to-day life happier, brighter, and easier for people living with lewy body dementia and those who care for them.