Recognizing Alzheimer's Cousin: Lewy Body Dementia

A new symptom comparison chart has just been issued by the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA) that helps people recognize the differences between Lewy body dementia (LBD) and Alzheimer’s disease.

LBD is a complex, challenging, and surprisingly common brain disease that is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s. The results of this can be devastating, as LBD patients respond very poorly to Alzheimer’s medications.

LBD occurs when there is an abnormal build up of Lewy bodies (alpha-synuclein protein deposits) in the areas of the brain that regulate behavior, memory, movement, and personality. On the other hand, Alzheimer’s disease primarily affects areas of the brain involving learning and memory.

Although LBD is the second most common cause of progressive dementia, it is not well recognized by physicians, especially primary care and general health care providers. It may require a specialist, such as a neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist, or a neuropsychologist, to properly distinguish the symptoms and provide an accurate diagnosis.

According to the LBDA, accurate and early diagnosis is extremely important because people with LBD typically have sensitivities to medication, and many drugs prescribed for Alzheimer’s can be very harmful to those with LBD.

“While the symptoms of LBD may be similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, the treatment strategy is more challenging because fewer medications can be used safely,” said Howard I. Hurtig, M.D., Chair, Department of Neurology, Pennsylvania Hospital, and member of the LBDA Scientific Advisory Council.

“I cannot overemphasize the need to avoid medications that can worsen the symptoms of LBD. Every patient with this disease and their caregivers should be familiar with the list of acceptable and forbidden drugs.”

LBD and Alzheimer’s do share some clinical and biological similarities that can make them difficult for many physicians to distinguish. Alzheimer’s disease affects cognitive function, including making new experiences into memories, while LBD affects different aspects of cognition, such as problem-solving and complex reasoning and movement.

Lewy body dementia, which affects 1.4 million Americans, refers to two related diagnoses: dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD). Both DLB and PDD are considered Lewy body dementias.

In DLB, cognitive (thinking) symptoms appear before Parkinson-like movement problems. In PDD, movement problems begin about a year before disabling cognitive symptoms.

The brochure is entitled “Lewy Who? Recognizing when it’s not Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Source: Lewy Body Dementia Association