Lewy Body Dementia
It is often difficult watching our loved ones age. Their bodies slow down, and the energetic, vibrant person that we once knew becomes weak, tired, and lethargic. They may forget people’s names. They may not remember vacations and experiences that were important during another time in their lives.
It is even more challenging to watch a loved one age if their personalities age as well. Maybe they will begin repeating stories or asking the same questions repeatedly. Perhaps they will obsess over a particular scenario or memory. While these behaviors often occur with many forms of dementia, what if your loved one undergoes a complete personality change? Perhaps your loved one has become inappropriate, childlike, or impulsive. What if their personality changes so much, you can hardly recognize the person they have become?
This may be happening in your life if your loved one is suffering from Lewy Body Dementia.
What is Lewy Body Dementia?
In 1912, a German neurologist named Friederich Lewy discovered protein deposits in brains. The protein, which is called alpha-synuclein, occurs naturally in healthy brains, but in some instances, the protein forms clumps inside neurons that control memory and movement. The excess protein causes the neurons to die. This disease is called Lewy Body Dementia.
The Lewy bodies, which are what the proteins are called, can affect many sections of the brain. The proteins can change information processing, perception, thought, and language. They can also affect an individual’s emotions and behaviors. They can keep a person from developing short-term memories and from regulating sleep. They can also alter an individual’s ability to move. In essence, the Lewy bodies that clump in the brain’s neurons can completely change a person’s life.
What are the symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia?
At the risk of using the same word that is in the name of the disease to describe the symptoms of the disease, those who have Lewy Body Dementia show signs of dementia.
Dementia is an umbrella term for a variety of actions that affect problem-solving, reasoning, attention, and planning. Those with Lewy Body Dementia also may have a problem with visual or spatial abilities, multitasking, and reasoning. Unlike another form of dementia, Alzheimer’s, those with LBD may not show signs of memory loss at first. Like those who have Alzheimer’s, LBD patients may show changes in their mood and behavior, confusion about time and place, and a difficult time with words and numbers.
Another way that doctors are able to differentiate between LBD and Alzheimer’s is that a person with LBD may have unpredictable changes in concentration throughout the day. One day, the patient may seem close to his old self, and the next day he may stare into space for periods of time or become illogical.
Even at the beginning of the disease, patients with LBD may suffer from realistic and detailed hallucinations.
Besides analyzing the patient’s behavior, a doctor can also order a PET scan, myocardial scintigraphy, and sleep study to diagnose LBD.
Prognosis of those with LBD
As the same with other diseases, some LBD patients progress slowly through the disease, and some progress rapidly. The average illness lasts five to seven years.
Treatment of LBD
Although there is no cure for LBD, there are medications that can help reduce the symptoms. The first is cholinesterase inhibitors. Although the FDA has not approved this treatment for those with LBD, these medications are used on Alzheimer’s patients. These inhibitors increase the levels of chemical messengers in the brain that can help with memory, thought, and judgment.
Doctors also may prescribe medications usually given to those with Parkinson’s. These may help the LBD patient move easier.
Causes of LBD
Perhaps instead of “causes” the better term to describe those who are the most likely to develop this disease would be “risk factors.” The actual cause is not known.
The risk factors for developing LBD include being a male older than 60 and having a family member with LBD or Parkinson’s. Some studies have shown that those with depression are also more likely to develop LBD than those who do not have depression.
Complications of LBD
There are many severe and difficult to manage complications that come with LBD. These complications make caring for these patients difficult.
Patients with LBD show severe dementia, aggression, depression, and tremors. They are also more likely to fall and injure themselves as a result of the Lewy bodies affecting the area in the brain that controls balance.
How do you manage the behavior of someone with LBD?
Even though caring for someone with LBD may be extremely difficult at times, it is important to remember to treat the individual with the same care and tenderness as you would if he or she was suffering from any other dreaded disease. This can be difficult to remember when your loved one acts aggressively.
Remember to speak calmly and softly with your loved one. Raised voices and argumentative behavior will do little to remedy the situation.
Back away if your loved one is showing physical aggression. Again, don’t argue with the patient.
Although the root cause of your loved one’s behavior is always that the Lewy bodies are blocking the neurons of the brain, try to determine if there is another cause for their problematic behavior. Just as an infant is unable to communicate when he or she is hungry, frustrated, in pain, or bored, those with LBD may not be able to express those feelings as well. This is difficult to imagine, especially if during their episodes they seem extremely verbal.
Help your loved one maintain their routines for as long as possible. We all receive comfort in our habits. This is especially true for those who have LBD. While it may be more difficult for them to complete their routines as the disease progresses, it may be beneficial to take advantage of procedural memory.
Remove distractions from your loved one’s life and limit the number of choices he or she has to make. For example, keep two or three outfits appropriate for the weather in your loved one’s closet. This will allow the patient to still have a choice in what to wear, but at the same time, it will keep them from becoming distracted by too many outfits.
Reducing clutter will also make it easier for your loved one to function as comfortably as possible.
If it provides comfort, talk with your loved one about memories from long ago.
Remember when your loved one seems particularly hurtful or difficult, it is the disease that is causing this action. It is not your loved one.
Help is Available for Seniors with Lewy Body Dementia
It is challenging watching a loved one suffer from any form of dementia. Know that you are not alone. Reach out to local or online support groups to help you learn about and manage the disease. Talk with counselors, social workers, or ministers to help you work through the many emotions you may be experiencing. Hire people to assist you in physically demanding aspects of the care if you are not able to complete it yourself. Find others to give you respite. Caregivers need attention too. Your loved one would want you to take care of yourself, even if he or she can’t say it.