|Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a type of progressive dementia that leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function because of abnormal microscopic deposits that damage brain cells over time.|
The hallmark brain abnormalities linked to DLB are named after Frederick H. Lewy, M.D., the neurologist who discovered them while working in Dr. Alois Alzheimer's laboratory during the early 1900s. Alpha-synuclein protein, the chief component of Lewy bodies, is found widely in the brain, but its normal function isn't yet known.
Lewy bodies are also found in other brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease dementia. Many people with Parkinson's eventually develop problems with thinking and reasoning, and many people with DLB experience movement symptoms, such as hunched posture, rigid muscles, a shuffling walk and trouble initiating movement.
This overlap in symptoms and other evidence suggest that DLB, Parkinson's disease and Parkinson's disease dementia may be linked to the same underlying abnormalities in how the brain processes the protein alpha-synuclein. Many people with both DLB and Parkinson's dementia also have plaques and tangles — hallmark brain changes linked to Alzheimer's disease. Sign up for our enews to receive updates about Alzheimer’s and dementia care and research.
Learn more: Mixed Dementia
Symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies include:
As with other types of dementia there is no single test that can conclusively diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies. Today, DLB is a "clinical" diagnosis, which means it represents a doctor's best professional judgment about the reason for a person's symptoms. The only way to conclusively diagnose DLB is through a postmortem autopsy.
Many experts now believe that DLB and Parkinson's disease dementia are two different expressions of the same underlying problems with brain processing of the protein alpha-synuclein. But most experts recommend continuing to diagnose DLB and Parkinson's dementia as separate disorders.
Since Lewy bodies tend to coexist with Alzheimer's brain changes, it may sometimes be hard to distinguish DLB from Alzheimer's disease, especially in the early stages.
Researchers have not yet identified any specific causes of dementia with Lewy bodies. Most people diagnosed with DLB have no family history of the disorder, and no genes linked to DLB have been conclusively identified.
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There are no treatments that can slow or stop the brain cell damage caused by dementia with Lewy bodies. Current strategies focus on helping symptoms.
If your treatment plan includes medications, it's important to work closely with your physician to identify the drugs that work best for you and the most effective doses. Treatment considerations involving medications include the following issues:
Like other types of dementia that destroy brain cells, DLB gets worse over time and shortens lifespan.