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Episode 58 - What is Lewy Body Dementia?

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All Home Care Matters
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When our loved one is diagnosed with dementia, we want to do our best to understand exactly what they’re going through. The more we know, the more support we can offer – both emotionally and in regard to long-term care support. We’ll also be better equipped to help ourselves. Knowing what to expect as dementia progresses, and understanding why our parent, spouse, or grandparent is behaving in certain ways can help us manage and care for our own feelings. There are over four hundred types of dementia out there – so it’s important not to generalize dementia as one single disorder. Once you know what type of dementia your loved one has, you can look at that variant through a closer lens, so you can focus on providing your loved one with specified care to match their individual needs. Today, we’re going to talk about one type of dementia that affects over one million people in the United States each year. That’s Lewy body dementia – or LBD. LBD usually sets in around age 50, although it can occur earlier. There are two diagnoses of the disorder – dementia with Lewy bodies, or DLB, and Parkinson’s disease dementia. By examining LBD in both of its forms, we can have a much clearer understanding of what our loved one is struggling with – and how to help them. After all, LBD is quite different from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, so we want to make sure we’re not grouping these disorders together. We’ll talk about the signs and symptoms of LBD, what to expect as the disease progresses, and possible care and treatment options. First, it’s important to understand what Lewy bodies are. First discovered by Dr. Friederich Lewy in 1912, Lewy bodies are abnormal protein deposits that form clumps inside neurons, causing neurons to lose function and die. The clumps first form in the parts of the brain that control memory and movement – but as time goes on, the damage spreads to other regions. In all, Lewy bodies can form in the cerebral cortex, the limbic cortex, the hippocampus, the midbrain and basal ganglia, the brain stem, and the olfactory pathways. The cerebral cortex controls language, thought, and information processing. The limbic cortex dictates emotions and behavior. The hippocampus is where new memories form. The midbrain and basal ganglia control movement. The brain stem regulates sleep. The olfactory pathways control the sense of smell. To learn more about how exactly LBD affects the brain, listen to our episode that discusses and examines the different types of dementia. Clearly, LBD is a devastating disorder. It can be extremely hard to watch a loved one fall victim to a progressive brain disease. That’s why it’s so essential to prepare yourself – so that you can minimize unwanted surprises down the road and be there for your loved one every step of the way. Scientists are unaware of what exactly causes LBD, but they do know that the dying neurons result in a failure of messages to be sent through brain cells. Without these messages, memory, learning, behavior, cognition, mood, and movement are all affected. LBD is common in patients with Parkinson’s Disease. According to, 50-80% of Parkinson’s patients experience dementia. The most common form of dementia for these patients is LBD. This is most likely because people with Parkinson’s disease and LBD are both progressive diseases in which brain cells are lost after protein clusters are formed. Unfortunately, LBD is commonly misdiagnosed or not diagnosed in its earliest stages. That’s because the early symptoms of the disorder can be confused with normal aging or other memory disorders, like Alzheimer’s. Still, there are some key differences to look out for. Remember, every person responds differently to LBD, so while some people might have every symptom, others may only have some. The severity of these symptoms also varies from person to person. Because of this, whether you notice any or all of these symptoms in your loved one – and regardless of the severity – you should take your loved one to the doctor if you think there’s a chance, she might have LBD. Among the early symptoms of LBD are physical issues – which is one standout difference between LBD and other forms of dementia. A person with LBD might have a tremor, or struggle with their fine motor skills. Try to notice if your loved one has difficult lifting utensils at dinnertime, or if their arm trembles when they rest. In addition, they could have trouble keeping their balance or lose coordination. Sometimes the physical symptoms are more subtle. Has your loved one’s facial expressions become less animated and more rigid? Is your loved complaining of muscle stiffness? Has their posture become stooped? You can also look for signs in their handwriting. If their handwriting is smaller, or shakier, than usual – this can be a sign of LBD. In addition to physical changes, look out for cogniti
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