What Is Lewy Body Disease?
Lewy Body is a type of dementia in which mental abilities are compromised and patients often suffer from hallucinations. It is not uncommon for someone suffering from this disease to have actual conversations with loved ones who have passed away. The disease makes them think the person is still alive and able to carry on a conversation.
The disease gets its name from the Lewy bodies, which are destructive protein deposits. They form in nerve cells of the brain and cause debilitating effects. The part of the brain affected by these protein deposits is what controls a person’s movements, memory and way of thinking.
Of all the types of dementia the only one more widely diagnosed than Lewy Body is Alzheimer’s disease. The disease gets its name from the neurologist that was the first person to study the effect of the disease on humans.
Symptoms Of Lewy Bodies Disease
Aside from hallucinations,other symptoms of this disease include struggling to sleep, depression, problems with cognitive functions, an attention span that fluctuates and basic body functions no longer being regulated as they should be. One of the symptoms of Lewy Body that not everyone realizes is fainting and/or falling repeatedly.
People suffering from this disease often physically act out their dreams without realizing it. This is caused by REM sleep behavior disorder, often see in patients with Lewy Body. Most of the cognitive problems patients face are the same ones faced by those who have Alzheimers, including memory loss and general confusion.
Several things need to be done in order to diagnose Lewy Body. A doctor must assess the symptoms that appear in potential Lewy Body patients, assess a patient’s mental ability, perform a physical and complete scans of a patient’s brain. The brain scan procedure will not uncover the presence of Lewy Body itself but will determine whether or not a patient’s brain is deteriorating in ways that affect their mental capacity.
The symptoms of Lewy Body can be treated even though the disease itself can’t. There are both medical and non medical ways to treat a patient with this disease. A patient’s cognitive symptoms can be treated with cholinesterase inhibitors, as can a patient’s hallucinations.
Non medical treatments used to manage this disease include physical, speech and occupational therapy as well as both family and individual psychotherapy. For some patients doctors will recommend taking aerobics or water aerobics classes, as well as flexibility and strengthening exercise courses. Cardiovascular therapy can also be used to treat the symptoms of this disease.
Family and individual psychotherapy is often recommended for patients and their families. This type of therapy teaches them how to cope with both the behavioral and emotional problems the disease causes. It also helps patients and families face the future with less stress and anxiety.
Lewy Body Dementia Stages
There are 7 stages of Lewy Body dementia, though each stage is not easily defined because there is not a clear cut difference between stages of this disease. It can be hard to track the stages because they are somewhat different for everyone. The REM behavior previously mentioned is often one of the first stages of the disease. The average person will experience this behavior for as long as 11 years before showing any other sign of having Lewy Body. Treating REM behavior can involve a patient taking clonazepam or melatonin.
The progression of this disease usually comes with the loss of cognitive functions. It becomes increasingly harder to pay attention and stay alert. Making plans in advance becomes difficult to do and mental tasks become more complicated than they ever were before. Even tasks one is accustomed to doing every day with ease can quickly become difficult if not impossible.
By the time someone reaches the middle stages of this disease they often have a hard time holding still and will shuffle around a lot. Other physical changes that manifest themselves in patients with Lewy Body are the strength and tone of their speaking voice as well as an inability to use facial expressions. Patients can take speech therapy in order to help compensate for these problems. Speech therapy can also fix any difficulties a patient has when swallowing and strengthen their muscles as well.
When the hallucinations set in is the time one is most likely to be diagnosed with this disease. Many of the symptoms that present themselves at this stage are symptoms similar to that of Parkinson’s. While hallucinations experienced by patients with Lewy Body disease might upset their loved ones the patient themselves rarely gets upset that they are hallucinating. It is not unusual for Lewy Body disease patients to acknowledge that their hallucinations are not actually real.
These initial Lewy Body disease stages lead patients into the final stages of Lewy Body dementia. As a patient enters the final stages of the disease all of their symptoms become progressively worse. At this point many people suffering from this disease also end up with symptoms typical of Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps the most notable part of the final stages of this disease are that their delusions become more severe and often involves patients buying into conspiracy theories, even if they never would have before being stricken with the disease. At this point their delusions often also include the sensed presence of supernatural beings. End stage Lewy Body dementia can be extremely painful for a patient’s loved ones. The Lewy Body dementia stages death is imminent in patients with the disease.
Inheriting The Disease
Often, ewy body disease hereditary is found in one’s family medical history. According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, genetics can easily play a role in the likelihood someone will suffer from this disease. Many families carry a gene that is also associated with a disease called Gauacher’s disease. This disease is hereditary also and is a disorder of the metabolism. In Gauacher’s disease lipds gather in a person’s spleen,bone marrow, brain, liver and lungs. Genetic mutations form within the GBA gene and patients with the disease get copies of this damaging gene from both their mother and their father. When this happens a person then has autosomal recessive disorder.
Anyone who has Gauacher’s disease is at an increased risk of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s as well. Doctors do know that if someone carries one of the damaging GBA genes in their body but not two they usually do not end up with Lewy Body.
Medical research has proven that out of 80 test subjects suffering from Lewy Body, only 7.6% of them had a mutated GBA gene in their body. The research performed involved 381 control subjects that were in good health. The occurence of GBA mutations were found to be almost as frequent as the occurence of Alzhemier’s disease. In studies that had been done prior to this one 7% of study participants that were suffering from Parkinson’s disease carried the GBA gene in them, which means the gene is most commonly found in those who suffer from Parkinson’s, Lewy Body or both.
Diffuse Lewy Body Disease
First recognized during the 1990s, Diffuse Lewy Body Disease (DLB) also afflicts people all over the world and has likely been around as long as other types of dementia. Doctors believe that it may be the cause of anywhere from 10% to 20% of all the diagnosed cases of dementia within the United States. In some cases patients are diagnosed with this type of the disease alone and in some cases patients are diagnosed with both Diffuse Lewy Body Disease and Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Even nueropsychological testing can not always detect the difference between the two diseases.
Identifying this particular type of dementia is something that can be done by conducting SPECT studies. Researchers have yet to figure out what causes Diffuse Lewy Body Disease. Genetics have been shown to play no more than a minor role in the disease itself. Some of the risk factors that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease seem to have no association with Diffuse Lewy Body. Since so little is known about this type of the disease there are no established methods for treating it. However, there are symptoms associated with this disease that can be treated using medication. These are symptoms a patient would experience as the result of brain damage from the disease.
Even though Lewy Body and Alzheimer’s disease have so much in common most of the medications meant to treat Alzheimers will likely do nothing for a patient with Lewy Body alone. However, patients who have symptoms of both may benefit from certain medications. Though there are preventative measures that can be taken to combat Alzheimer’s, such as gingko and Vitamin E appear to do nothing to prevent Lewy Body.
Brain pathology plays an important role in the detection and treatment of Diffuse Lewy Body, though the brain pathology of this type of dementia differs compared to other types. A general pathologist can easily miss brain findings associated with this type of dementia because they are significantly smaller than what pathologists are used to looking for. Unlike typical Lewy Body Disease, DLB is not something that is hereditary.
Lewy Body Disease Prognosis
When a patient suffering from Lewy Body is given a prognosis by their doctor it usually has to do with the chances that there will be complications, outcomes that are likely to occur and what the recovery period will be like if a patient is even able to recover. The Lewy Body disease life expectancy is not something that can be measured definitively because it effects every patient in unique ways.
Since doctors do not know how to stop Lewy Body all together, or even to slow down the progression of the disease, the prognosis for a patient suffering from this type of dementia is usually negative. On average people who are diagnosed with Lewy Body have eight years to live following their diagnosis. This is roughly the same prognosis people with Alzheimer’s disease are given to live. Over the years the disease is guaranteed to progress in every patient diagnosed.
Though dementia with Lewy Bodies stages is hard for people to cope with, there is help out there for it. The medical community is searching for new approaches to treating this disease. It is believed than when doctors can more successfully measure patients’ hallucinations tracking their responses to their treatments will help them develop a strategy for future treatments. Visual hallucinations in patients with this disease are being studied and the connection between the disease and receptors in their brain are becoming clearer.
Only time will tell what the future holds for those suffering from Lewy Body Disease.