Roughly 1 million Americans currently have Lewy body dementia (LBD). While this type of dementia is common, it’s often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s because of its similarities. However, LBD is more closely related to Parkinson’s disease dementia, as LBD causes rigidity in muscles and strongly affects motor skills. Currently, there is no definitive test that can accurately diagnose LBD, which is why it can be difficult for caregivers to receive proper information to help their loved one with LBD. If you’re the caregiver of somebody living with LBD, continue reading to learn more about the causes of Lewy body dementia, how it’s related to other kinds of dementia, and how transitioning your loved one into a memory care facility might be your best option for treatment.
The Different Kinds of Dementia
Dementia isn’t a specific disease, but an umbrella term that encompasses many diseases that affect the brain’s ability to think, store information, control the body, and communicate. However, there are many other kinds of dementia including:
Lewy body dementia (sometimes referred to as dementia with Lewy bodies)
Parkinson’s disease dementia
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
The Different Stages of Lewy Body Dementia, and How it Differs from Alzheimer’s Disease
Of the several types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common and well-known. Because of this, people living with LBD are frequently misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Both diseases have considerable overlap in symptoms and are caused by an excessive accumulation of proteins in the brain that block brain cell’s ability to communicate with each other.
Here are some key differences between the two types of dementia:
Hallucinations and paranoia are much more common in people with LBD
Memory loss is more pronounced in people with Alzheimer’s
REM sleep disorder is more common with LBD
Incontinence, dizziness, and falling is more common in the early stages of LBD
Muscle rigidity is more pronounced in people with LBD
The 3 Main Stages of Dementia
There are thought to be 7 distinct phases of dementia, however, it’s often easier to break these phases into 3 stages: early, middle, and late stages of LBD dementia.
Hallucinations and delusions are usually an early indicator of LBD, and it’s one of the key differences in differentiating LBD from Alzheimer’s. People may also begin to notice their muscles freeze up while walking. This is a common early symptom of LBD. Unlike Alzheimer's, people with LBD don’t have pronounced memory loss in the early stages, although mild cognitive decline may occur in this stage.
LBD in its middle stage closely resembles the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, causing a person’s motor skills to be significantly impaired, making it difficult to walk around, use their hands, swallow food and drink, and speak. Cognitive decline will become more severe in this phase, and delusions and paranoia will become more pronounced and frequent.
Muscle rigidity will become very pronounced in the late stage, making it extremely difficult to move around, use motor skills, or speak. In this stage, people become completely reliant on caregivers and medical professionals to complete their activities of daily living. People are also much more susceptible to infections, including pneumonia in the late stage.
The Causes of Lewy Body Dementia
With Alzheimer’s, beta-amyloid proteins clump together to form “plaques” that interfere with the brain’s messaging system. In LBD, a different kind of protein, alpha-synuclein, accumulates to create “Lewy bodies,” which similarly affect the brain’s ability to communicate. Anybody is capable of developing LBD, but it’s commonly seen in people over the age of 50. It’s more common for men to develop LBD than women. Research is underway studying the causes of Lewy body dementia. Some professionals hypothesize it’s caused by a combination of mutated genes, environmental risk factors, and natural aging.
How Families and Caregivers Can Best Support their Loved One with Lewy Body Dementia
In the earliest stages of LBD, a person’s cognitive abilities aren’t as affected, allowing them to live a mostly independent life. However, hallucinations and paranoia will become more pronounced through each stage of the disease, which can be challenging for caregivers. Because Alzheimer’s and LBD are similar, many doctors may mistakenly prescribe antipsychotic medications to help with hallucinations, not knowing that these medications actually increase anxiety in their patients. As a caregiver of somebody with LBD, it’s your responsibility to inform doctors and medical professionals of your loved one’s symptoms, as they may have difficulty communicating. As your loved one enters into the middle and late stages of LBD, you will probably find it difficult to provide the same level of care required to provide a high quality of life for your loved one.
It’s often during the middle and late stages when families consider moving their loved one into an assisted living or memory care community to provide high-quality, round-the-clock care that’s necessary for their loved one.
The Veranda at Mitchell Hollingsworth
The Veranda at Mitchell Hollingsworth is a specialized memory care unit designed for dementia. This specialized unit is able to provide a higher continuum of healthcare that’s not normally seen in other nursing facilities. This includes employing a staff of registered nurses 24 hours a day who can administer medications and injections. Staff has additional dementia and behavior training and the memory care unit is a locked wing that allows for walking independence of the residents while keeping them safe and close by. Residents receive one on one attention and activities and assistance with all activities of daily living (feeding, dressing, toileting, etc.).
If you’re a caregiver of somebody with LBD, please contact us today to learn more about how memory care communities can help your loved one.