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Treatment for Dementia with Lewy bodies

Posted on Thursday, 12 January 2012, in Dementia & Memory

What is dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)

Symptoms and treatment of dementia with Lewy bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies is responsible for about 10% of all dementia cases, but tends to be under-diagnosed. It’s similar to both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, affects mostly elderly men and women, and like other forms of dementia, is treatable but not curable or reversible.

Other names for dementia with Lewy bodies include Lewy body dementia, cortical Lewy body disease and diffuse Lewy body disease.

What are ‘Lewy bodies’?

Named after the Dr Lewy who identified them in 1912, Lewy bodies are microscopic spherical protein deposits found in nerve cells. When they appear in the brain, they interfere with normal functioning by impeding the brain’s chemical messengers including acetylcholine and dopamine.

Lewy bodies are also associated with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disease that affect the brain’s control of the body’s muscles. Many Parkinson’s sufferers may also go on to suffer from dementia.

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What are the symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies?

Mental symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Problems with attention and alertness
  • Spatial disorientation
  • Difficulties with planning and reasoning
  • Memory loss – but to a lesser extent than with Alzheimer’s disease

Physical symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Slowness and stiffness
  • Trembling of the limbs
  • Shuffling when walking
  • Loss of facial expression
  • Loss of vocal strength

Other symptoms particular to dementia with Lewy bodies include:

  • Visual hallucinations of great detail and extreme realism, usually of people or animals
  • Rapidly fluctuating abilities – changing hourly or even hourly
  • Daytime sleep, contrasting with disturbed nights with nightmares, hallucinations and confusion
  • Fainting, falling and ‘funny turns’

The importance of specialist diagnosis for DLB

As it’s so easy to misdiagnose dementia with Lewy bodies, specialist diagnosis is essential. The risk of misdiagnosis is that DLB sufferers have been known to have a bad reaction to some of the drugs that are normally used to treat other forms of dementia.

A positive diagnosis will also open the door to support services geared to dementia sufferers and their carers – and allow the individual and their family to plan for the future.

Treating dementia with Lewy bodies

While there is no cure at present for dementia with Lewy bodies, various drugs are used to treat particular symptoms and to slow down the disease’s progress. As the symptoms of this disease can fluctuate rapidly, care may need to be very flexible – and may require a substantial amount of physiotherapy and one-to-one support.

Cholinesterase inhibitor drugs, usually used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, have been shown to be useful in some cases. Another Alzheimer’s treatment, Ebixa, may also be useful.

Physical symptoms can be treated with anti-Parkinson’s disease drugs, but these have been found to increase hallucinations and confusion. Physiotherapy and mobility aids are another option.

Neuroleptics are strong tranquilisers that may be used to reduce a dementia sufferer’s confusion and distress. However, in the case of dementia with Lewy bodies, they may induce bad side effects including rigidity, immobility, an inability to communicate and even sudden death. Neuroleptic use therefore needs to be monitored extremely carefully.

How Clinical Partners can help

Simply call our clinical team in confidence on 0203 326 9160 and we will recommend the most suitable therapist or support group for your individual situation.

Read more about diagnosis of this illness and how we can arrange a consultation for an assessment.


Emilie Head

Emilie Head Business Development and Content Editor BA(Hons), ACMA, MBACP

Emilie has three main roles at Clinical Partners – managing our NHS Partnerships, developing the services our Clinicians offer and writing and editing web content.

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