Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease can cause memory and thinking problems. Lewy bodies are sticky pieces of protein that disrupt normal brain function and may be linked to dementia in someone with Parkinson’s disease.
Lewy bodies are also a hallmark of some other brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.
In this article, we discuss the types, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. We also cover Lewy bodies and how they can cause dementia.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological a condition that develops slowly and primarily affects nerve cells in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. The nerve cells in this region produce
the Parkinson Foundation estimates that nearly a million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease, with experts predicting that number to increase to 1.2 million by 2030. Men are 1.5 times more likely than women to develop Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease develops gradually over several years and can manifest itself differently in each person. Symptoms that a person may experience include:
- tremor, or tremor, which usually begins as a “pill rolling” tremor when a person is at rest
- bradykinesia, which refers to slow motion or freezing while moving
- stiffness of limbs
- balance and walking problems
Find out more about the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
There are different types of Parkinson’s disease. The main types include:
- Idiopathic Parkinson’s disease: It is the most common type of Parkinson’s disease. Doctors use the term idiopathic to describe conditions whose cause is unknown.
- Vascular parkinsonism: Small strokes can cause and worsen this type of Parkinson’s disease.
- Drug-induced Parkinsonism: This type occurs due to certain medications, such as antipsychotics or antidepressants. Most people recover in a a few days, weeks or months to stop the causative drug, but in rare cases it may be permanent.
About 15% of people with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease have other related conditions. These are known as atypical parkinsonian disorders, and researchers have linked them to irregular protein buildup in the brain and other changes in that organ. They include:
- Lewy Body Dementia (DLB): DLB is associated with an abnormal buildup of alpha-synuclein protein in the brain.
- Corticobasal syndrome (CBS): CBS, which is the least common atypical parkinsonian disorder, usually appears after the age of 60 and begins with a limb.
- Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP): It is the most common degenerative type of atypical parkinsonian disease. PSP typically presents in the mid-1960s and is associated with the build-up of tau proteins in the brain.
- Multisystem atrophy (MSA): MSA typically develops when a person is in their fifties. This condition is also linked to the abnormal accumulation of alpha-synuclein.
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that 50 to 80% of people with Parkinson’s disease will develop dementia.
Dementia is the gradual decline in cognitive function and can lead to changes in memory, behavior, and the ability to perform tasks. the
Lewy body dementia is the third most common type of dementia, according to experts, representing 5 to 10% cases. The disease causes memory loss, changes in behavior, and a gradual worsening of movement symptoms that are the same as in Parkinson’s disease.
There is two diagnoses Lewy body dementia:
Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD)
Doctors diagnose PDD when a person with Parkinson’s disease experiences significant cognitive decline after at least 1 year to develop their first symptoms. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, leading to a diagnosis of dementia.
PDD can cause difficulties with the following:
- problem solving
- understand abstract concepts
People with PDD will usually need help as dementia progresses and affects a person’s ability to perform daily tasks and take care of themselves.
Doctors diagnose DLB when cognitive decline is the first symptom or when cognitive decline and motor symptoms begin and progress together.
Someone with DLB may experience some of the following issues
- fluctuating changes in vigilance and attention
- recurrent and detailed visual hallucinations
- disturbed sleep, including movements such as hitting and screaming while sleeping
- movement problems, including slow walking
Less common symptoms of DLB include:
- auditory hallucinations or hearing sounds that are not real
- repeated falls
- lack of enthusiasm, interest or motivation
A person with DLB can also develop other conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
A person with Parkinson’s disease can develop dementia and have difficulty thinking and thinking. Lewy bodies are a hallmark of several brain disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and they can cause stiff muscles and problems with movement and posture.
Research suggests that the similarity of symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and dementia to Lewy bodies may indicate a shared link with how the brain processes alpha-synuclein.
It is not possible to test for the presence of Lewy bodies, so researchers should try to determine their effects by performing post-mortem studies.
There is currently no cure for dementia. However, medication can ease symptoms, while a team of healthcare professionals and therapists can help a person develop strategies to manage their daily activities.
Doctors can prescribe the following medications:
- Antipsychotics: These drugs help treat the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. An example is haloperidol (Haldol).
- Cholinesterase inhibitors: These drugs prevent the breakdown of a chemical called acetylcholine, which the body needs for memory and learning. An example of a cholinesterase inhibitor is rivastigmine (Exelon).
- Clonazepam (Klonopin): This medication treats sleep disturbances.
- Levodopa (Sinemet): Doctors use this medicine to treat the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
A person with dementia may have a dedicated care team to provide help. The team can include:
- Neurologists: These professionals specialize in brain conditions, such as dementia.
- Physiotherapists: Physiotherapists use exercises and training programs to address mobility issues.
- Speech therapists: These specialists help solve problems related to swallowing and speech.
- Occupational therapists: These therapists help individuals change their home environment and perform daily tasks, such as eating and bathing,
- Mental health therapists: Mental health therapists help people with dementia cope with their illness and plan for their future.
Lewy body dementia is the progressive loss of cognition that results from the buildup of Lewy bodies, which leads to degeneration of certain areas of the brain. Depending on when cognitive symptoms occur in Lewy body dementia, doctors may diagnose a person with Parkinson’s disease dementia or Lewy body dementia.
Dementia can cause memory loss and impaired thinking skills. As the condition worsens, other symptoms may also arise, including difficulty walking, hallucinations, tremors, and confusion. Although there is no cure for dementia, a combination of medications and therapies can help a person adjust to their diagnosis and maintain their independence.