Tag Archives: Alzeimer’s Disease

Lewy Body Dementia

What Is LBD?
LBD is not a rare disease. It affects an estimated 1.3 million individuals and their families in the United States. Because LBD symptoms can closely resemble other more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is currently widely underdiagnosed. Many doctors or other medical professionals still are not familiar with LBD.LBD is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses. LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The earliest symptoms of these two diseases differ, but reflect the same underlying biological changes in the brain. Over time, people with both diagnoses will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep, and behavioral symptoms.While it may take more than a year or two for enough symptoms to develop for a doctor to diagnose LBD, it is critical to pursue a formal diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows for important early treatment that may extend quality of life and independence.LBD is a multisystem disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach. This approach involves a team of physicians from different specialties who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms. Many people with LBD enjoy significant improvement of their symptoms with a comprehensive approach to treatment, and some can have remarkably little change from year to year.Some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Who was Lewy?
In the early 1900s, while researching Parkinson’s disease, the scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These Lewy body proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms. In Lewy body dementia, these abnormal proteins are diffuse throughout other areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex. The brain chemical acetylcholine is depleted, causing disruption of perception, thinking and behavior. Lewy body dementia exists either in pure form, or in conjunction with other brain changes, including those typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Early and accurate diagnosis of LBD, while not always easy to do, is of critical importance for two reasons.

  • First, people with LBD may respond more favorably to certain dementia medications than people with Alzheimer’s, allowing for early treatment that may improve or extend the quality of life for both the person with LBD and their caregiver.
  • Secondly, many people with LBD respond more poorly to certain medications for behavior and movement than people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, sometimes with dangerous or permanent side effects.

By learning about common forms of dementia, you can help your physician most quickly identify what type of dementia has developed.

Common Forms of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include a progressive loss of recent memory; problems with language, calculation, abstract thinking, and judgment; depression or anxiety; personality and behavioral changes; and disorientation to time and place.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is an umbrella term for a form of dementia that has three common presentations.

  • Some individuals will start out with a memory or cognitive disorder that may resemble Alzheimer’s disease, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent leading to the diagnosis of ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’ (DLB). Symptoms that differentiate it from Alzheimer’s include unpredictable levels of cognitive ability, attention or alertness, changes in walking or movement, visual hallucinations, a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people physically act out their dreams, and severe sensitivity to medications for hallucinations. In some cases, the sleep disorder can precede the dementia and other symptoms of LBD by decades.
  • Others will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and later develop dementia and other symptoms common in DLB.
  • Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities, leading to an initial diagnosis of DLB.

Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features, all caused by the presence of Lewy bodies throughout the brain.

Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes that deprive the brain of vital oxygen. Symptoms, such as disorientation in familiar locations; walking with rapid, shuffling steps; incontinence; laughing or crying inappropriately; difficulty following instructions; and problems handling money may appear suddenly and worsen with additional strokes. High blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol are some of the risk factors for stroke that may be controlled to prevent vascular dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) includes several disorders with a variety of symptoms. The most common signs of FTD include changes in personality and behavior, such as inappropriate or compulsive behavior, euphoria, apathy, decline in personal hygiene, and a lack of awareness concerning these changes. Some forms of FTD involve language and speech symptoms or movement changes.

An experienced clinician within the medical community should perform a diagnostic evaluation. If one is not available, the neurology department of the nearest medical university should be able to recommend appropriate resources or may even provide an experienced diagnostic team skilled in Lewy body dementia.

A thorough dementia diagnostic evaluation includes physical and neurological examinations, patient and family interviews (including a detailed lifestyle and medical history), and neuro-psychological and mental status tests. The patient’s functional ability, attention, language, visuospatial skills, memory and executive functioning are assessed. In addition, brain imaging (CT or MRI scans), blood tests and other laboratory studies may be performed. The evaluation will provide a clinical diagnosis. Currently, a conclusive diagnosis of LBD can be obtained only from a postmortem autopsy for which arrangements should be made in advance. Some research studies may offer brain autopsies as part of their protocols. Participating in research studies is a good way to benefit others with Lewy body dementia.

Medications
Medications are one of the most controversial subjects in dealing with LBD. A medication that doesn’t work for one person may work for another person.

Prescribing should only be done by a physician who is thoroughly knowledgeable about LBD. With new medications and even ‘over-the-counter,’ the patient should be closely monitored. At the first sign of an adverse reaction, consult with the patient’s physician. Consider joining an online caregiver support group to see what others have observed with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Risk Factors
Advanced age is considered to be the greatest risk factor for Lewy body dementia, with onset typically, but not always, between the ages of 50 and 85. Some cases have been reported much earlier. It appears to affect slightly more men than women. Having a family member with Lewy body dementia may increase a person’s risk. Observational studies suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle (exercise, mental stimulation, nutrition) might delay age-associated dementias.

Clinical Trials
The recruitment of LBD patients for participation in clinical trials for studies on LBD, other dementias and Parkinsonian studies is now steadily increasing.

Prognosis and Stages
No cure or definitive treatment for Lewy body dementia has been discovered as yet. The disease has an average duration of 5 to 7 years. It is possible, though, for the time span to be anywhere from 2 to 20 years, depending on several factors, including the person’s overall health, age and severity of symptoms.

Defining the stages of disease progression for LBD is difficult. The symptoms, medicine management and duration of LBD vary greatly from person to person. To further complicate the stages assessment, LBD has a progressive but vacillating clinical course, and one of its defining symptoms is fluctuating levels of cognitive abilities, alertness and attention. Sudden decline is often caused by medications, infections or other compromises to the immune system and usually the person with LBD returns to their baseline upon resolution of the problem.  But for some individuals, it may also be due to the natural course of the disease.

Symptoms

Lewy body dementia symptoms and diagnostic criteria
Every person with LBD is different and will manifest different degrees of the following symptoms. Some will show no signs of certain features, especially in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms may fluctuate as often as moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour or day-to-day. NOTE: Some patients meet the criteria for LBD yet score in the normal range of some cognitive assessment tools. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), for example, cannot be relied upon to distinguish LBD from other common syndromes.

LBD is a an umbrella term for two related clinical diagnoses, dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

The latest clinical diagnostic criteria for dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) categorizes symptoms into three types, listed below.  A diagnosis of Parkinsons’ disease dementia (PDD) requires a well established diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that later progresses into dementia, along with very similar features to DLB.  A rather arbirary time cutoff was established to differentiate between DLB and PDD.  People whose dementia occurs before or within 1 year of Parkinson’s symptoms are diagnosed with DLB.  People who have an existing diagnosis of Parkinson’s for more than a year and later develop dementia are diagnosed with PDD.

Central feature

  • Progressive dementia – deficits in attention and executive function are typical. Prominent memory impairment may not be evident in the early stages.

Core features

  • Fluctuating cognition with pronounced variations in attention and alertness.
  • Recurrent complex visual hallucinations, typically well formed and detailed.
  • Spontaneous features of parkinsonism.

Suggestive features

  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which can appear years before the onset of dementia and parkinsonism.
  • Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics occurs in up to 50% of LBD patients who take them.
  • Low dopamine transporter uptake in the brain’s basal ganglia as seen on SPECT and PET imaging scans. (These scans are not yet available outside of research settings.)

Supportive features

  • Repeated falls and syncope (fainting).
  • Transient, unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Autonomic dysfunction.
  • Hallucinations of other senses, like touch or hearing.
  • Visuospatial abnormalities.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances.

A clinical diagnosis of LBD can be probable or possible based on different symptom combinations.

A probable LBD diagnosis requires either:

  • Dementia plus two or more core features, or
  • Dementia plus one core feature and one or more suggestive features.

A possible LBD diagnosis requires:

  • Dementia plus one core feature, or
  • Dementia plus one or more suggestive features.

Symptoms Explained
In this section we’ll discuss each of the symptoms, starting with the key word: dementia. Dementia is a process whereby the person becomes progressively confused. The earliest signs are usually memory problems, changes in their way of speaking, such as forgetting words, and personality problems. Cognitive symptoms of dementia include poor problem solving, difficulty with learning new skills and impaired decision making.

Other causes of dementia should be ruled out first, such as alcoholism, overuse of medication, thyroid or metabolic problems. Strokes can also cause dementia. If these reasons are ruled out then the person is said to have a degenerative dementia. Lewy Body Dementia is second only to Alzheimer’s disease as the most common form of dementia.

Fluctuations in cognition will be noticeable to those who are close to the person with LBD, such as their partner. At times the person will be alert and then suddenly have acute episodes of confusion. These may last hours or days. Because of these fluctuations, it is not uncommon for it to be thought that the person is “faking”. This fluctuation is not related to the well-known “sundowning” of Alzheimer’s. In other words, there is no specific time of day when confusion can be seen to occur.

Hallucinations are usually, but not always, visual and often are more pronounced when the person is most confused. They are not necessarily frightening to the person. Other modalities of hallucinations include sound, taste, smell, and touch.

Parkinsonism or Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, take the form of changes in gait; the person may shuffle or walk stiffly. There may also be frequent falls. Body stiffness in the arms or legs, or tremors may also occur. Parkinson’s mask (blank stare, emotionless look on face), stooped posture, drooling and runny nose may be present.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is often noted in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. During periods of REM sleep, the person will move, gesture and/or speak. There may be more pronounced confusion between the dream and waking reality when the person awakens. RBD may actually be the earliest symptom of LBD in some patients, and is now considered a significant risk factor for developing LBD. (One recent study found that nearly two-thirds of patients diagnosed with RBD developed degenerative brain diseases, including Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple system atrophy, after an average of 11 years of receiving an RBD diagnosis. All three diseases are called synucleinopathies, due to the presence of a mis-folded protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein.)

Sensitivity to neuroleptic (anti-psychotic) drugs is another significant symptom that may occur. These medications can worsen the Parkinsonism and/or decrease the cognition and/or increase the hallucinations. Neuroleptic Malignancy Syndrome, a life-threatening illness, has been reported in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. For this reason, it is very important that the proper diagnosis is made and that healthcare providers are educated about the disease.

Other Symptoms
Visuospatial difficulties, including depth perception, object orientation, directional sense and illusions may occur.

Autonomic dysfunction, including blood pressure fluctuations (e.g. postural/orthostatic hypotension) heart rate variability (HRV), sexual disturbances/impotence, constipation, urinary problems, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), decreased sweating/heat intolerance, syncope (fainting), dry eyes/mouth, and difficulty swallowing which may lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Other psychiatric disturbances may include systematized delusions, aggression and depression. The onset of aggression in LBD may have a variety of causes, including infections (e.g., UTI), medications, misinterpretation of the environment or personal interactions, and the natural progression of the disease.

Treatment Options

LBD is a multi-system disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach, meaning a team of physicians from different specialties, who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms.  It is important to remember that some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Cognitive Symptoms
Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are considered the standard treatment for cognitive symptoms in LBD. These medications were developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. However, some researchers believe that people with LBD may be even more responsive to these types of medications than those with Alzheimer’s.

Movement Symptoms
Movement symptoms may be treated with a Parkinson’s medication called levodopa, but if the symptoms are mild, it may be best to not treat them in order to avoid potential medication side-effects.

Visual Hallucinations
If hallucinations are disruptive or upsetting, your physician may recommend a cautious trial of a newer antipsychotic medication. (Please see WARNING below.)  Of note, the dementia medications called cholinesterase inhibitors have also been shown to be effective in treating hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms of LBD.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
RBD can be quite responsive to treatment, so your physician may recommend a medication like melatonin and/or clonazepam.

Neuroleptic Sensitivity
Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics is common in LBD. Neuroleptics, also known as antipsychotics, are medications used to treat hallucinations or other serious mental disorders. While traditional antipsychotic medications (e.g. haloperidol) are commonly prescribed for individuals with Alzheimer’s with disruptive behavior, these medications can affect the brain of an individual with LBD differently, sometimes causing severe side effects (see below). For this reason, traditional antipsychotic medications like haloperidol should be avoided. Some newer ‘atypical’ antipsychotic medications like risperidone may also be problematic for someone with LBD. Quetiapine is preferred by some LBD experts. If quetiapine is not tolerated or is not helpful, clozapine should be considered, but requires ongoing blood tests to assure a rare but serious blood condition does not develop. Hallucinations must be treated very conservatively, using the lowest doses possible under careful observation for side effects.

WARNING:
Up to 50% of patients with LBD who are treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience severe neuroleptic sensitivity, such as worsening cognition, heavy sedation, increased or possibly irreversible parkinsonism, or symptoms resembling neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. (NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure.)

Medication Side Effects
Speak with your doctor about possible side effects. The following drugs may cause sedation, motor impairment or confusion:

  • Benzodiazepines, tranquilizers like diazepam and lorazepam
  • Anticholinergics (antispasmodics), such as oxybutynin and glycopyrrolate
  • Some surgical anesthetics
  • Older antidepressants
  • Certain over-the-counter medications, including diphenhydramine and dimenhydrinate.
  • Some medications, like anticholinergics, amantadine and dopamine agonists, which help relieve parkinsonian symptoms, might increase confusion, delusions or hallucinations.

NOTE: Be sure to meet with your anesthesiologist in advance of any surgery to discuss medication sensitivities and risks unique to LBD. People with LBD often respond to certain anesthetics and surgery with acute states of confusion or delirium and may have a sudden significant drop in functional abilities, which may or may not be permanent.

Possible alternatives to general anesthesia include a spinal or regional block. These methods are less likely to result in postoperative confusion. If you are told to stop taking all medications prior to surgery, consult with your doctor to develop a plan for careful withdrawal.

Non-Medical Treatments

Physical therapy options include cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercises, as well as gait training. Physicians may also recommend general physical fitness programs such as aerobic, strengthening, or water exercise.

Speech therapy may be helpful for low voice volume and poor enunciation. Speech therapy may also improve muscular strength and swallowing difficulties.

Occupational therapy may help maintain skills and promote function and independence. In addition to these forms of therapy and treatment, music and aroma therapy can also reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Individual and family psychotherapy can be useful for learning strategies to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms and to help make plans that address individual and family concerns about the future.

Support groups may be helpful for caregivers and persons with LBD to identify practical solutions to day-to-day frustrations, and to obtain emotional support from others.

End-of-Life
Planning for the end of life can be a valuable activity for any family. The links below offer general guidance and some specific suggestions for families who face the burden of a disease such as Lewy body dementia.

Advanced Directives – a Caring Connections site with state-specific advanced directives

Caring Connections – home page of consumer Web site about hospice and palliative care managed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Palliative Doctors – a Web site for consumers managed by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care about palliative care

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. There are 10 warning signs and symptoms. Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees. If you notice any of them, please see a doctor.

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
    One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
    Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
    People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
  • Confusion with time or place
    People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
    For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
    People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
    A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
  • Decreased or poor judgment
    People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
    A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
  • Changes in mood and personality
    The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

World Alzheimer’s Day

World Alzheimer’s Day, September 21st of each year, is a day on which Alzheimer’s organizations around the world concentrate their efforts on raising awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a group of disorders that impairs mental functioning.

Every 68 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. At current rates, experts believe the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will quadruple to as many as 16 million by the year 2050.

Alzheimer’s disease is often called a family disease, because the chronic stress of watching a loved one slowly decline affects everyone. 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. With the increases in life spans and baby boomers coming of age, support for Alzheimer’s research is more critical to our families than ever.

Lewy Body Dementia

What Is LBD?
LBD is not a rare disease. It affects an estimated 1.3 million individuals and their families in the United States. Because LBD symptoms can closely resemble other more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is currently widely underdiagnosed. Many doctors or other medical professionals still are not familiar with LBD.LBD is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses. LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The earliest symptoms of these two diseases differ, but reflect the same underlying biological changes in the brain. Over time, people with both diagnoses will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep, and behavioral symptoms.While it may take more than a year or two for enough symptoms to develop for a doctor to diagnose LBD, it is critical to pursue a formal diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows for important early treatment that may extend quality of life and independence.LBD is a multisystem disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach. This approach involves a team of physicians from different specialties who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms. Many people with LBD enjoy significant improvement of their symptoms with a comprehensive approach to treatment, and some can have remarkably little change from year to year.Some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Who was Lewy?
In the early 1900s, while researching Parkinson’s disease, the scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These Lewy body proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms. In Lewy body dementia, these abnormal proteins are diffuse throughout other areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex. The brain chemical acetylcholine is depleted, causing disruption of perception, thinking and behavior. Lewy body dementia exists either in pure form, or in conjunction with other brain changes, including those typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Early and accurate diagnosis of LBD, while not always easy to do, is of critical importance for two reasons.

  • First, people with LBD may respond more favorably to certain dementia medications than people with Alzheimer’s, allowing for early treatment that may improve or extend the quality of life for both the person with LBD and their caregiver.
  • Secondly, many people with LBD respond more poorly to certain medications for behavior and movement than people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, sometimes with dangerous or permanent side effects.

By learning about common forms of dementia, you can help your physician most quickly identify what type of dementia has developed.

Common Forms of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include a progressive loss of recent memory; problems with language, calculation, abstract thinking, and judgment; depression or anxiety; personality and behavioral changes; and disorientation to time and place.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is an umbrella term for a form of dementia that has three common presentations.

  • Some individuals will start out with a memory or cognitive disorder that may resemble Alzheimer’s disease, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent leading to the diagnosis of ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’ (DLB). Symptoms that differentiate it from Alzheimer’s include unpredictable levels of cognitive ability, attention or alertness, changes in walking or movement, visual hallucinations, a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people physically act out their dreams, and severe sensitivity to medications for hallucinations. In some cases, the sleep disorder can precede the dementia and other symptoms of LBD by decades.
  • Others will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and later develop dementia and other symptoms common in DLB.
  • Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities, leading to an initial diagnosis of DLB.

Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features, all caused by the presence of Lewy bodies throughout the brain.

Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes that deprive the brain of vital oxygen. Symptoms, such as disorientation in familiar locations; walking with rapid, shuffling steps; incontinence; laughing or crying inappropriately; difficulty following instructions; and problems handling money may appear suddenly and worsen with additional strokes. High blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol are some of the risk factors for stroke that may be controlled to prevent vascular dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) includes several disorders with a variety of symptoms. The most common signs of FTD include changes in personality and behavior, such as inappropriate or compulsive behavior, euphoria, apathy, decline in personal hygiene, and a lack of awareness concerning these changes. Some forms of FTD involve language and speech symptoms or movement changes.

An experienced clinician within the medical community should perform a diagnostic evaluation. If one is not available, the neurology department of the nearest medical university should be able to recommend appropriate resources or may even provide an experienced diagnostic team skilled in Lewy body dementia.

A thorough dementia diagnostic evaluation includes physical and neurological examinations, patient and family interviews (including a detailed lifestyle and medical history), and neuro-psychological and mental status tests. The patient’s functional ability, attention, language, visuospatial skills, memory and executive functioning are assessed. In addition, brain imaging (CT or MRI scans), blood tests and other laboratory studies may be performed. The evaluation will provide a clinical diagnosis. Currently, a conclusive diagnosis of LBD can be obtained only from a postmortem autopsy for which arrangements should be made in advance. Some research studies may offer brain autopsies as part of their protocols. Participating in research studies is a good way to benefit others with Lewy body dementia.

Medications
Medications are one of the most controversial subjects in dealing with LBD. A medication that doesn’t work for one person may work for another person.

Prescribing should only be done by a physician who is thoroughly knowledgeable about LBD. With new medications and even ‘over-the-counter,’ the patient should be closely monitored. At the first sign of an adverse reaction, consult with the patient’s physician. Consider joining an online caregiver support group to see what others have observed with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Risk Factors
Advanced age is considered to be the greatest risk factor for Lewy body dementia, with onset typically, but not always, between the ages of 50 and 85. Some cases have been reported much earlier. It appears to affect slightly more men than women. Having a family member with Lewy body dementia may increase a person’s risk. Observational studies suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle (exercise, mental stimulation, nutrition) might delay age-associated dementias.

Clinical Trials
The recruitment of LBD patients for participation in clinical trials for studies on LBD, other dementias and Parkinsonian studies is now steadily increasing.

Prognosis and Stages
No cure or definitive treatment for Lewy body dementia has been discovered as yet. The disease has an average duration of 5 to 7 years. It is possible, though, for the time span to be anywhere from 2 to 20 years, depending on several factors, including the person’s overall health, age and severity of symptoms.

Defining the stages of disease progression for LBD is difficult. The symptoms, medicine management and duration of LBD vary greatly from person to person. To further complicate the stages assessment, LBD has a progressive but vacillating clinical course, and one of its defining symptoms is fluctuating levels of cognitive abilities, alertness and attention. Sudden decline is often caused by medications, infections or other compromises to the immune system and usually the person with LBD returns to their baseline upon resolution of the problem.  But for some individuals, it may also be due to the natural course of the disease.

Symptoms

Lewy body dementia symptoms and diagnostic criteria
Every person with LBD is different and will manifest different degrees of the following symptoms. Some will show no signs of certain features, especially in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms may fluctuate as often as moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour or day-to-day. NOTE: Some patients meet the criteria for LBD yet score in the normal range of some cognitive assessment tools. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), for example, cannot be relied upon to distinguish LBD from other common syndromes.

LBD is a an umbrella term for two related clinical diagnoses, dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

The latest clinical diagnostic criteria for dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) categorizes symptoms into three types, listed below.  A diagnosis of Parkinsons’ disease dementia (PDD) requires a well established diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that later progresses into dementia, along with very similar features to DLB.  A rather arbirary time cutoff was established to differentiate between DLB and PDD.  People whose dementia occurs before or within 1 year of Parkinson’s symptoms are diagnosed with DLB.  People who have an existing diagnosis of Parkinson’s for more than a year and later develop dementia are diagnosed with PDD.

Central feature

  • Progressive dementia – deficits in attention and executive function are typical. Prominent memory impairment may not be evident in the early stages.

Core features

  • Fluctuating cognition with pronounced variations in attention and alertness.
  • Recurrent complex visual hallucinations, typically well formed and detailed.
  • Spontaneous features of parkinsonism.

Suggestive features

  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which can appear years before the onset of dementia and parkinsonism.
  • Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics occurs in up to 50% of LBD patients who take them.
  • Low dopamine transporter uptake in the brain’s basal ganglia as seen on SPECT and PET imaging scans. (These scans are not yet available outside of research settings.)

Supportive features

  • Repeated falls and syncope (fainting).
  • Transient, unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Autonomic dysfunction.
  • Hallucinations of other senses, like touch or hearing.
  • Visuospatial abnormalities.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances.

A clinical diagnosis of LBD can be probable or possible based on different symptom combinations.

A probable LBD diagnosis requires either:

  • Dementia plus two or more core features, or
  • Dementia plus one core feature and one or more suggestive features.

A possible LBD diagnosis requires:

  • Dementia plus one core feature, or
  • Dementia plus one or more suggestive features.

Symptoms Explained
In this section we’ll discuss each of the symptoms, starting with the key word: dementia. Dementia is a process whereby the person becomes progressively confused. The earliest signs are usually memory problems, changes in their way of speaking, such as forgetting words, and personality problems. Cognitive symptoms of dementia include poor problem solving, difficulty with learning new skills and impaired decision making.

Other causes of dementia should be ruled out first, such as alcoholism, overuse of medication, thyroid or metabolic problems. Strokes can also cause dementia. If these reasons are ruled out then the person is said to have a degenerative dementia. Lewy Body Dementia is second only to Alzheimer’s disease as the most common form of dementia.

Fluctuations in cognition will be noticeable to those who are close to the person with LBD, such as their partner. At times the person will be alert and then suddenly have acute episodes of confusion. These may last hours or days. Because of these fluctuations, it is not uncommon for it to be thought that the person is “faking”. This fluctuation is not related to the well-known “sundowning” of Alzheimer’s. In other words, there is no specific time of day when confusion can be seen to occur.

Hallucinations are usually, but not always, visual and often are more pronounced when the person is most confused. They are not necessarily frightening to the person. Other modalities of hallucinations include sound, taste, smell, and touch.

Parkinsonism or Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, take the form of changes in gait; the person may shuffle or walk stiffly. There may also be frequent falls. Body stiffness in the arms or legs, or tremors may also occur. Parkinson’s mask (blank stare, emotionless look on face), stooped posture, drooling and runny nose may be present.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is often noted in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. During periods of REM sleep, the person will move, gesture and/or speak. There may be more pronounced confusion between the dream and waking reality when the person awakens. RBD may actually be the earliest symptom of LBD in some patients, and is now considered a significant risk factor for developing LBD. (One recent study found that nearly two-thirds of patients diagnosed with RBD developed degenerative brain diseases, including Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple system atrophy, after an average of 11 years of receiving an RBD diagnosis. All three diseases are called synucleinopathies, due to the presence of a mis-folded protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein.)

Sensitivity to neuroleptic (anti-psychotic) drugs is another significant symptom that may occur. These medications can worsen the Parkinsonism and/or decrease the cognition and/or increase the hallucinations. Neuroleptic Malignancy Syndrome, a life-threatening illness, has been reported in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. For this reason, it is very important that the proper diagnosis is made and that healthcare providers are educated about the disease.

Other Symptoms
Visuospatial difficulties, including depth perception, object orientation, directional sense and illusions may occur.

Autonomic dysfunction, including blood pressure fluctuations (e.g. postural/orthostatic hypotension) heart rate variability (HRV), sexual disturbances/impotence, constipation, urinary problems, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), decreased sweating/heat intolerance, syncope (fainting), dry eyes/mouth, and difficulty swallowing which may lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Other psychiatric disturbances may include systematized delusions, aggression and depression. The onset of aggression in LBD may have a variety of causes, including infections (e.g., UTI), medications, misinterpretation of the environment or personal interactions, and the natural progression of the disease.

Treatment Options

LBD is a multi-system disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach, meaning a team of physicians from different specialties, who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms.  It is important to remember that some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Cognitive Symptoms
Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are considered the standard treatment for cognitive symptoms in LBD. These medications were developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. However, some researchers believe that people with LBD may be even more responsive to these types of medications than those with Alzheimer’s.

Movement Symptoms
Movement symptoms may be treated with a Parkinson’s medication called levodopa, but if the symptoms are mild, it may be best to not treat them in order to avoid potential medication side-effects.

Visual Hallucinations
If hallucinations are disruptive or upsetting, your physician may recommend a cautious trial of a newer antipsychotic medication. (Please see WARNING below.)  Of note, the dementia medications called cholinesterase inhibitors have also been shown to be effective in treating hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms of LBD.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
RBD can be quite responsive to treatment, so your physician may recommend a medication like melatonin and/or clonazepam.

Neuroleptic Sensitivity
Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics is common in LBD. Neuroleptics, also known as antipsychotics, are medications used to treat hallucinations or other serious mental disorders. While traditional antipsychotic medications (e.g. haloperidol) are commonly prescribed for individuals with Alzheimer’s with disruptive behavior, these medications can affect the brain of an individual with LBD differently, sometimes causing severe side effects (see below). For this reason, traditional antipsychotic medications like haloperidol should be avoided. Some newer ‘atypical’ antipsychotic medications like risperidone may also be problematic for someone with LBD. Quetiapine is preferred by some LBD experts. If quetiapine is not tolerated or is not helpful, clozapine should be considered, but requires ongoing blood tests to assure a rare but serious blood condition does not develop. Hallucinations must be treated very conservatively, using the lowest doses possible under careful observation for side effects.

WARNING:
Up to 50% of patients with LBD who are treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience severe neuroleptic sensitivity, such as worsening cognition, heavy sedation, increased or possibly irreversible parkinsonism, or symptoms resembling neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. (NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure.)

Medication Side Effects
Speak with your doctor about possible side effects. The following drugs may cause sedation, motor impairment or confusion:

  • Benzodiazepines, tranquilizers like diazepam and lorazepam
  • Anticholinergics (antispasmodics), such as oxybutynin and glycopyrrolate
  • Some surgical anesthetics
  • Older antidepressants
  • Certain over-the-counter medications, including diphenhydramine and dimenhydrinate.
  • Some medications, like anticholinergics, amantadine and dopamine agonists, which help relieve parkinsonian symptoms, might increase confusion, delusions or hallucinations.

NOTE: Be sure to meet with your anesthesiologist in advance of any surgery to discuss medication sensitivities and risks unique to LBD. People with LBD often respond to certain anesthetics and surgery with acute states of confusion or delirium and may have a sudden significant drop in functional abilities, which may or may not be permanent.

Possible alternatives to general anesthesia include a spinal or regional block. These methods are less likely to result in postoperative confusion. If you are told to stop taking all medications prior to surgery, consult with your doctor to develop a plan for careful withdrawal.

Non-Medical Treatments

Physical therapy options include cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercises, as well as gait training. Physicians may also recommend general physical fitness programs such as aerobic, strengthening, or water exercise.

Speech therapy may be helpful for low voice volume and poor enunciation. Speech therapy may also improve muscular strength and swallowing difficulties.

Occupational therapy may help maintain skills and promote function and independence. In addition to these forms of therapy and treatment, music and aroma therapy can also reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Individual and family psychotherapy can be useful for learning strategies to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms and to help make plans that address individual and family concerns about the future.

Support groups may be helpful for caregivers and persons with LBD to identify practical solutions to day-to-day frustrations, and to obtain emotional support from others.

End-of-Life
Planning for the end of life can be a valuable activity for any family. The links below offer general guidance and some specific suggestions for families who face the burden of a disease such as Lewy body dementia.

Advanced Directives – a Caring Connections site with state-specific advanced directives

Caring Connections – home page of consumer Web site about hospice and palliative care managed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Palliative Doctors – a Web site for consumers managed by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care about palliative care

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. There are 10 warning signs and symptoms. Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees. If you notice any of them, please see a doctor.

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
    One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
    Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
    People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
  • Confusion with time or place
    People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
    For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
    People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
    A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
  • Decreased or poor judgment
    People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
    A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
  • Changes in mood and personality
    The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

November Is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

November Is Alzheimer's Awareness Month

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Alzheimer’s and dementia basics

  • Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.
  • Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early onset Alzheimer’s (also known as younger-onset), which often appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s.
  • Alzheimer’s worsens over time. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.
  • Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information.

Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age . Most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign that brain cells are failing.

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information because Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

People with memory loss or other possible signs of Alzheimer’s may find it hard to recognize they have a problem. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends. Anyone experiencing dementia-like symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible. If you need assistance finding a doctor with experience evaluating memory problems, your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter can help. Early diagnosis and intervention methods are improving dramatically, and treatment options and sources of support can improve quality of life.

World Alzheimer’s Day

World Alzheimer’s Day, September 21st of each year, is a day on which Alzheimer’s organizations around the world concentrate their efforts on raising awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a group of disorders that impairs mental functioning.

Every 68 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. At current rates, experts believe the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will quadruple to as many as 16 million by the year 2050.

Alzheimer’s disease is often called a family disease, because the chronic stress of watching a loved one slowly decline affects everyone. 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. With the increases in life spans and baby boomers coming of age, support for Alzheimer’s research is more critical to our families than ever.

Lewy Body Dementia

 Lewy Body Dementia

What Is LBD?

LBD is not a rare disease. It affects an estimated 1.3 million individuals and their families in the United States. Because LBD symptoms can closely resemble other more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is currently widely underdiagnosed. Many doctors or other medical professionals still are not familiar with LBD.LBD is an umbrella term for two related diagnoses. LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The earliest symptoms of these two diseases differ, but reflect the same underlying biological changes in the brain. Over time, people with both diagnoses will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep, and behavioral symptoms.While it may take more than a year or two for enough symptoms to develop for a doctor to diagnose LBD, it is critical to pursue a formal diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows for important early treatment that may extend quality of life and independence.LBD is a multisystem disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach. This approach involves a team of physicians from different specialties who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms. Many people with LBD enjoy significant improvement of their symptoms with a comprehensive approach to treatment, and some can have remarkably little change from year to year.Some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Who was Lewy?
In the early 1900s, while researching Parkinson’s disease, the scientist Friederich H. Lewy discovered abnormal protein deposits that disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. These Lewy body proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they deplete the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing Parkinsonian symptoms. In Lewy body dementia, these abnormal proteins are diffuse throughout other areas of the brain, including the cerebral cortex. The brain chemical acetylcholine is depleted, causing disruption of perception, thinking and behavior. Lewy body dementia exists either in pure form, or in conjunction with other brain changes, including those typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Early and accurate diagnosis of LBD, while not always easy to do, is of critical importance for two reasons.

  • First, people with LBD may respond more favorably to certain dementia medications than people with Alzheimer’s, allowing for early treatment that may improve or extend the quality of life for both the person with LBD and their caregiver.
  • Secondly, many people with LBD respond more poorly to certain medications for behavior and movement than people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, sometimes with dangerous or permanent side effects.

By learning about common forms of dementia, you can help your physician most quickly identify what type of dementia has developed.

Common Forms of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include a progressive loss of recent memory; problems with language, calculation, abstract thinking, and judgment; depression or anxiety; personality and behavioral changes; and disorientation to time and place.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is an umbrella term for a form of dementia that has three common presentations.

  • Some individuals will start out with a memory or cognitive disorder that may resemble Alzheimer’s disease, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent leading to the diagnosis of ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’ (DLB). Symptoms that differentiate it from Alzheimer’s include unpredictable levels of cognitive ability, attention or alertness, changes in walking or movement, visual hallucinations, a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people physically act out their dreams, and severe sensitivity to medications for hallucinations. In some cases, the sleep disorder can precede the dementia and other symptoms of LBD by decades.
  • Others will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and later develop dementia and other symptoms common in DLB.
  • Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities, leading to an initial diagnosis of DLB.

Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features, all caused by the presence of Lewy bodies throughout the brain.

Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes that deprive the brain of vital oxygen. Symptoms, such as disorientation in familiar locations; walking with rapid, shuffling steps; incontinence; laughing or crying inappropriately; difficulty following instructions; and problems handling money may appear suddenly and worsen with additional strokes. High blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol are some of the risk factors for stroke that may be controlled to prevent vascular dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) includes several disorders with a variety of symptoms. The most common signs of FTD include changes in personality and behavior, such as inappropriate or compulsive behavior, euphoria, apathy, decline in personal hygiene, and a lack of awareness concerning these changes. Some forms of FTD involve language and speech symptoms or movement changes.

An experienced clinician within the medical community should perform a diagnostic evaluation. If one is not available, the neurology department of the nearest medical university should be able to recommend appropriate resources or may even provide an experienced diagnostic team skilled in Lewy body dementia.

A thorough dementia diagnostic evaluation includes physical and neurological examinations, patient and family interviews (including a detailed lifestyle and medical history), and neuro-psychological and mental status tests. The patient’s functional ability, attention, language, visuospatial skills, memory and executive functioning are assessed. In addition, brain imaging (CT or MRI scans), blood tests and other laboratory studies may be performed. The evaluation will provide a clinical diagnosis. Currently, a conclusive diagnosis of LBD can be obtained only from a postmortem autopsy for which arrangements should be made in advance. Some research studies may offer brain autopsies as part of their protocols. Participating in research studies is a good way to benefit others with Lewy body dementia.

Medications
Medications are one of the most controversial subjects in dealing with LBD. A medication that doesn’t work for one person may work for another person.

Prescribing should only be done by a physician who is thoroughly knowledgeable about LBD. With new medications and even ‘over-the-counter,’ the patient should be closely monitored. At the first sign of an adverse reaction, consult with the patient’s physician. Consider joining an online caregiver support group to see what others have observed with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Risk Factors
Advanced age is considered to be the greatest risk factor for Lewy body dementia, with onset typically, but not always, between the ages of 50 and 85. Some cases have been reported much earlier. It appears to affect slightly more men than women. Having a family member with Lewy body dementia may increase a person’s risk. Observational studies suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle (exercise, mental stimulation, nutrition) might delay age-associated dementias.

Clinical Trials
The recruitment of LBD patients for participation in clinical trials for studies on LBD, other dementias and Parkinsonian studies is now steadily increasing.

Prognosis and Stages
No cure or definitive treatment for Lewy body dementia has been discovered as yet. The disease has an average duration of 5 to 7 years. It is possible, though, for the time span to be anywhere from 2 to 20 years, depending on several factors, including the person’s overall health, age and severity of symptoms.

Defining the stages of disease progression for LBD is difficult. The symptoms, medicine management and duration of LBD vary greatly from person to person. To further complicate the stages assessment, LBD has a progressive but vacillating clinical course, and one of its defining symptoms is fluctuating levels of cognitive abilities, alertness and attention. Sudden decline is often caused by medications, infections or other compromises to the immune system and usually the person with LBD returns to their baseline upon resolution of the problem.  But for some individuals, it may also be due to the natural course of the disease.

Symptoms

Lewy body dementia symptoms and diagnostic criteria
Every person with LBD is different and will manifest different degrees of the following symptoms. Some will show no signs of certain features, especially in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms may fluctuate as often as moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour or day-to-day. NOTE: Some patients meet the criteria for LBD yet score in the normal range of some cognitive assessment tools. The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), for example, cannot be relied upon to distinguish LBD from other common syndromes.

LBD is a an umbrella term for two related clinical diagnoses, dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.

The latest clinical diagnostic criteria for dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) categorizes symptoms into three types, listed below.  A diagnosis of Parkinsons’ disease dementia (PDD) requires a well established diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that later progresses into dementia, along with very similar features to DLB.  A rather arbirary time cutoff was established to differentiate between DLB and PDD.  People whose dementia occurs before or within 1 year of Parkinson’s symptoms are diagnosed with DLB.  People who have an existing diagnosis of Parkinson’s for more than a year and later develop dementia are diagnosed with PDD.

Central feature

  • Progressive dementia – deficits in attention and executive function are typical. Prominent memory impairment may not be evident in the early stages.

Core features

  • Fluctuating cognition with pronounced variations in attention and alertness.
  • Recurrent complex visual hallucinations, typically well formed and detailed.
  • Spontaneous features of parkinsonism.

Suggestive features

  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which can appear years before the onset of dementia and parkinsonism.
  • Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics occurs in up to 50% of LBD patients who take them.
  • Low dopamine transporter uptake in the brain’s basal ganglia as seen on SPECT and PET imaging scans. (These scans are not yet available outside of research settings.)

Supportive features

  • Repeated falls and syncope (fainting).
  • Transient, unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Autonomic dysfunction.
  • Hallucinations of other senses, like touch or hearing.
  • Visuospatial abnormalities.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances.

A clinical diagnosis of LBD can be probable or possible based on different symptom combinations.

A probable LBD diagnosis requires either:

  • Dementia plus two or more core features, or
  • Dementia plus one core feature and one or more suggestive features.

A possible LBD diagnosis requires:

  • Dementia plus one core feature, or
  • Dementia plus one or more suggestive features.

Symptoms Explained
In this section we’ll discuss each of the symptoms, starting with the key word: dementia. Dementia is a process whereby the person becomes progressively confused. The earliest signs are usually memory problems, changes in their way of speaking, such as forgetting words, and personality problems. Cognitive symptoms of dementia include poor problem solving, difficulty with learning new skills and impaired decision making.

Other causes of dementia should be ruled out first, such as alcoholism, overuse of medication, thyroid or metabolic problems. Strokes can also cause dementia. If these reasons are ruled out then the person is said to have a degenerative dementia. Lewy Body Dementia is second only to Alzheimer’s disease as the most common form of dementia.

Fluctuations in cognition will be noticeable to those who are close to the person with LBD, such as their partner. At times the person will be alert and then suddenly have acute episodes of confusion. These may last hours or days. Because of these fluctuations, it is not uncommon for it to be thought that the person is “faking”. This fluctuation is not related to the well-known “sundowning” of Alzheimer’s. In other words, there is no specific time of day when confusion can be seen to occur.

Hallucinations are usually, but not always, visual and often are more pronounced when the person is most confused. They are not necessarily frightening to the person. Other modalities of hallucinations include sound, taste, smell, and touch.

Parkinsonism or Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, take the form of changes in gait; the person may shuffle or walk stiffly. There may also be frequent falls. Body stiffness in the arms or legs, or tremors may also occur. Parkinson’s mask (blank stare, emotionless look on face), stooped posture, drooling and runny nose may be present.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is often noted in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. During periods of REM sleep, the person will move, gesture and/or speak. There may be more pronounced confusion between the dream and waking reality when the person awakens. RBD may actually be the earliest symptom of LBD in some patients, and is now considered a significant risk factor for developing LBD. (One recent study found that nearly two-thirds of patients diagnosed with RBD developed degenerative brain diseases, including Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple system atrophy, after an average of 11 years of receiving an RBD diagnosis. All three diseases are called synucleinopathies, due to the presence of a mis-folded protein in the brain called alpha-synuclein.)

Sensitivity to neuroleptic (anti-psychotic) drugs is another significant symptom that may occur. These medications can worsen the Parkinsonism and/or decrease the cognition and/or increase the hallucinations. Neuroleptic Malignancy Syndrome, a life-threatening illness, has been reported in persons with Lewy Body Dementia. For this reason, it is very important that the proper diagnosis is made and that healthcare providers are educated about the disease.

Other Symptoms
Visuospatial difficulties, including depth perception, object orientation, directional sense and illusions may occur.

Autonomic dysfunction, including blood pressure fluctuations (e.g. postural/orthostatic hypotension) heart rate variability (HRV), sexual disturbances/impotence, constipation, urinary problems, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), decreased sweating/heat intolerance, syncope (fainting), dry eyes/mouth, and difficulty swallowing which may lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Other psychiatric disturbances may include systematized delusions, aggression and depression. The onset of aggression in LBD may have a variety of causes, including infections (e.g., UTI), medications, misinterpretation of the environment or personal interactions, and the natural progression of the disease.

Treatment Options

LBD is a multi-system disease and typically requires a comprehensive treatment approach, meaning a team of physicians from different specialties, who collaborate to provide optimum treatment of each symptom without worsening other LBD symptoms.  It is important to remember that some people with LBD are extremely sensitive or may react negatively to certain medications used to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s in addition to certain over-the-counter medications.

Cognitive Symptoms
Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are considered the standard treatment for cognitive symptoms in LBD. These medications were developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. However, some researchers believe that people with LBD may be even more responsive to these types of medications than those with Alzheimer’s.

Movement Symptoms
Movement symptoms may be treated with a Parkinson’s medication called levodopa, but if the symptoms are mild, it may be best to not treat them in order to avoid potential medication side-effects.

Visual Hallucinations
If hallucinations are disruptive or upsetting, your physician may recommend a cautious trial of a newer antipsychotic medication. (Please see WARNING below.)  Of note, the dementia medications called cholinesterase inhibitors have also been shown to be effective in treating hallucinations and other psychiatric symptoms of LBD.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
RBD can be quite responsive to treatment, so your physician may recommend a medication like melatonin and/or clonazepam.

Neuroleptic Sensitivity
Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics is common in LBD. Neuroleptics, also known as antipsychotics, are medications used to treat hallucinations or other serious mental disorders. While traditional antipsychotic medications (e.g. haloperidol) are commonly prescribed for individuals with Alzheimer’s with disruptive behavior, these medications can affect the brain of an individual with LBD differently, sometimes causing severe side effects (see below). For this reason, traditional antipsychotic medications like haloperidol should be avoided. Some newer ‘atypical’ antipsychotic medications like risperidone may also be problematic for someone with LBD. Quetiapine is preferred by some LBD experts. If quetiapine is not tolerated or is not helpful, clozapine should be considered, but requires ongoing blood tests to assure a rare but serious blood condition does not develop. Hallucinations must be treated very conservatively, using the lowest doses possible under careful observation for side effects.

WARNING:
Up to 50% of patients with LBD who are treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience severe neuroleptic sensitivity, such as worsening cognition, heavy sedation, increased or possibly irreversible parkinsonism, or symptoms resembling neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), which can be fatal. (NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure.)

Medication Side Effects
Speak with your doctor about possible side effects. The following drugs may cause sedation, motor impairment or confusion:

  • Benzodiazepines, tranquilizers like diazepam and lorazepam
  • Anticholinergics (antispasmodics), such as oxybutynin and glycopyrrolate
  • Some surgical anesthetics
  • Older antidepressants
  • Certain over-the-counter medications, including diphenhydramine and dimenhydrinate.
  • Some medications, like anticholinergics, amantadine and dopamine agonists, which help relieve parkinsonian symptoms, might increase confusion, delusions or hallucinations.

NOTE: Be sure to meet with your anesthesiologist in advance of any surgery to discuss medication sensitivities and risks unique to LBD. People with LBD often respond to certain anesthetics and surgery with acute states of confusion or delirium and may have a sudden significant drop in functional abilities, which may or may not be permanent.

Possible alternatives to general anesthesia include a spinal or regional block. These methods are less likely to result in postoperative confusion. If you are told to stop taking all medications prior to surgery, consult with your doctor to develop a plan for careful withdrawal.

Non-Medical Treatments

Physical therapy options include cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercises, as well as gait training. Physicians may also recommend general physical fitness programs such as aerobic, strengthening, or water exercise.

Speech therapy may be helpful for low voice volume and poor enunciation. Speech therapy may also improve muscular strength and swallowing difficulties.

Occupational therapy may help maintain skills and promote function and independence. In addition to these forms of therapy and treatment, music and aroma therapy can also reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Individual and family psychotherapy can be useful for learning strategies to manage emotional and behavioral symptoms and to help make plans that address individual and family concerns about the future.

Support groups may be helpful for caregivers and persons with LBD to identify practical solutions to day-to-day frustrations, and to obtain emotional support from others.

End-of-Life
Planning for the end of life can be a valuable activity for any family. The links below offer general guidance and some specific suggestions for families who face the burden of a disease such as Lewy body dementia.

Advanced Directives – a Caring Connections site with state-specific advanced directives

Caring Connections – home page of consumer Web site about hospice and palliative care managed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Palliative Doctors – a Web site for consumers managed by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care about palliative care