Information for Patients
Lewy Body Disease
Also called: Dementia with Lewy bodies
Lewy body disease is one of the most common causes of dementia in the elderly. Dementia is the loss of mental functions severe enough to affect normal activities and relationships. Lewy body disease happens when abnormal structures, called Lewy bodies, build up in areas of the brain. The disease may cause a wide range of symptoms, including
- Changes in alertness and attention
- Problems with movement and posture
- Muscle stiffness
- Loss of memory
Lewy body disease can be hard to diagnose, because Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease cause similar symptoms. Scientists think that Lewy body disease might be related to these diseases, or that they sometimes happen together.
Lewy body disease usually begins between the ages of 50 and 85. The disease gets worse over time. There is no cure. Treatment focuses on drugs to help symptoms.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Dementia with Lewy bodies Dementia with Lewy bodies is a nervous system disorder characterized by a decline in intellectual function (dementia), a group of movement problems known as parkinsonism, visual hallucinations, sudden changes (fluctuations) in behavior and intellectual ability, and acting out dreams while asleep (REM sleep behavior disorder). This condition typically affects older adults, most often developing between ages 50 and 85. The life expectancy of individuals with dementia with Lewy bodies varies; people typically survive about 5 to 7 years after they are diagnosed.REM sleep behavior disorder may be the first sign of dementia with Lewy bodies. It can occur years before other symptoms appear. Individuals with REM sleep behavior disorder act out their dreams, talking and moving in their sleep when they should be still. This behavior becomes less pronounced as dementia with Lewy bodies worsens and additional features develop.Dementia is often the second major feature to develop in dementia with Lewy bodies. Initially, this intellectual decline may be mild or seem to come and go. In this condition, dementia often leads to impaired ability to perform visual-spatial tasks such as assembling puzzles. Affected individuals may also have poor problem-solving skills (executive functioning), speech difficulties, and reduced inhibitions. Problems with memory typically do not occur until later.Most people with dementia with Lewy bodies experience visual hallucinations, which often involve people or animals. Fluctuations in behavior and thought processes (cognition) include sudden changes in attention, unintelligible speech, and brief episodes of altered consciousness that may appear as staring spells.Parkinsonism is usually the last major feature to develop in people with dementia with Lewy bodies, although it can appear earlier in some individuals. The movement problems typically include tremors, rigidity, unusually slow movement (bradykinesia), and impaired balance and coordination (postural instability). Affected individuals may require walking aids or wheelchair assistance over time.Individuals with dementia with Lewy bodies may also experience a sharp drop in blood pressure upon standing (orthostatic hypotension), fainting episodes (syncope), reduced sense of smell, increased saliva production and drooling, difficulty controlling the flow of urine (incontinence), or constipation.