Dementia with Lewy bodies

Dementia is an an umbrella term for a range of diseases that affect different brain functions, including memory. Dementia with Lewy bodies is a common form of dementia. It’s also known as Lewy body dementia.

Symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies

The symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies usually develop gradually. They usually become more severe over the course of a few years.

It causes problems with:

  • thinking speed
  • language
  • understanding
  • judgement
  • memory (although significant memory loss may not occur until later on)

Other symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies

People with dementia with Lewy bodies may also have other symptoms. These can help to distinguish it from other types of dementia.

Dementia with Lewy bodies is closely related to Parkinson’s disease (PD). Because of this, people with dementia with Lewy bodies sometimes have symptoms like stiff limbs, tremors, slow movement and might shuffle when walking.

Other symptoms include:

  • extreme swings between alertness and confusion or drowsiness – can be unexpected and change from hour to hour, or day to day
  • seeing or hearing things that aren’t real (hallucinations) – can range from pleasant to distressing
  • fainting, unsteadiness and falls
  • sleep disturbances – can cause sleep talking or acting out dreams
  • loss of facial expression
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • depression

These symptoms can make daily activities very difficult.

Dementia with Lewy bodies can also lead to other health problems. This includes injuries from falls and chest infections. Chest infections may be caused by accidentally inhaling food instead of swallowing it.

Causes of dementia with Lewy bodies

In dementia with Lewy bodies, small proteins known as Lewy bodies appear in the nerve cells of the brain. They then build up in the parts of the brain responsible for memory and muscle movement.

It’s not clear why this happens or how exactly the brain is damaged. But, it’s thought that the chemical signals between brain cells are disrupted.

People who have Parkinson’s disease are more likely to go on to develop dementia with Lewy bodies. This is known as Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD).

Risk factors for dementia with Lewy bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies usually occurs in people with no family history of the condition.

People with Parkinson’s disease might also develop dementia with Lewy bodies.

When to speak to a healthcare professional

If you’re worried about your memory or think you may have dementia, you should speak to your GP.

If you’re worried about someone else, you should encourage them to make an appointment. You could suggest that you’ll go with them.

More advice if you’re worried about dementia

Diagnosing dementia with Lewy bodies

Memory problems are not only caused by dementia. They can also be caused by depression, stress, medications or other health problems.

Your GP can carry out some simple checks to try to find out what the cause may be. They can refer you to a specialist for more tests, if necessary.

Treatment for dementia with Lewy bodies

There’s currently no cure for dementia with Lewy bodies. But, there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms. Your GP or healthcare professional can discuss the best treatment options for you.

There are things you can do to live well for as long as possible with dementia.

Read more about living well with dementia

Your future health and social care needs will need to be assessed and a care plan drawn up.

This is a way of ensuring you receive the right treatment for your needs. It involves identifying areas where you may need some help, like:

  • what support you or your carer need for you to remain as independent as possible
  • whether there are any changes that need to be made to your home to make it easier to live in
  • whether you need any financial assistance

Last updated:
27 May 2024

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