In the United States, about 1.3 million people have had Lewy body dementia, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association. A common type of progressive dementia, Lewy body dementia causes problems with memory and judgment, and patients can have confusion.
These cognitive changes result from abnormal protein formations called Lewy bodies. Lewy body dementia affects the outer layer of the brain called the cortex and an interior brain structure called the substantia nigra.
Healthy cells die in these regions of the brain, which affects normal functioning. Lewy bodies can appear in the cells that remain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke noted that the protein found in Lewy bodies, called alpha-synuclein, is linked to other disorders, including Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to the cognitive problems, Lewy body dementia has three characteristics. The first characteristic is shifts in the patient’s level in alertness and attention. For example, the patient may have long periods of time in which she stares off into space or the patient may feel drowsy often.
The second characteristic is frequent visual hallucinations, in which the patient sees something that does not exist. Examples of visual hallucinations include seeing people and animals, though some patients may see colors or shapes. The MayoClinic.com noted that the hallucinations may be one of the first symptoms.
The third characteristic are Parkinsonian motor symptoms — motor symptoms that would be seen in a patient with Parkinson’s disease — such as rigidity and a shuffling walk.
Patients with Lewy body dementia can have other symptoms as well. The Family Caregiver Alliance stated that about 50 percent of patients have rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder, in which they have excessive movement when they are asleep, experience vivid dreaming, and talk while sleeping. Other symptoms of Lewy body dementia include delusions and depression.
No cure exists for Lewy body dementia, so treatments focus on managing the symptoms of the disorder.
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