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How Does Lewy Body Dementia Progress?

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A senior man with a confused look in his face as he stares at an empty drawer and tries to remember something.

Memory impairment can severely impact the lives of your loved ones and cause many different complications, but it can be challenging to know precisely how each condition can progress. Lewy body dementia is the second most common form of dementia in the United States, affecting over 1 million people a year.

Lewy body dementia, also known as LBD, is a progressive condition that worsens over time. 

In its earlier stages, LBD is characterized by mild problems with cognitive function and motor control. As this condition progresses, it can lead to severe balance, coordination, thinking, and memory issues. 

People suffering from LBD often need specialized assistance, like that offered in a memory care community.

What is Lewy Body Dementia?

Lewy body dementia is an umbrella term for two progressive neurological disorders: Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). These conditions are caused by an abnormal buildup of certain proteins in the brain, called alpha-synucleins, that clump together into deposits. These deposits are called Lewy bodies, named after the neurologist who discovered them

In a healthy brain, alpha-synucleins are found evenly dispersed and processed in a way that helps the brain function. However, when they clump together, they can cause damage to brain cells and nerve cells. In Lewy body dementia, these deposits damage the parts of the brain responsible for memory, cognitive function, and movement.

These bodies can also cause chemicals in the brain that usually act as messengers between cells to become affected, leading to communication errors in your brain cells. This can lead to the death of brain and nerve cells.

This condition is the second most common form of dementia in the United States, behind Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s suspected that Lewy body dementia affects over 1 million people a year. Although younger people can develop this neurological condition, it usually develops after age 50. 

What Are the Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia?

Lewy body dementia, like most forms of memory impairment, is considered a progressive condition. This means the signs and symptoms begin slowly but can increase in severity as the condition progresses. When the condition starts to develop, it commonly causes:

  • Temporary confusion
  • Forgetting important names, events, or faces
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mild tremors or shakes
  • Difficulty with motor control
  • Difficulty paying attention

These symptoms are the most common, but it doesn’t mean every person with Lewy body dementia will experience them all. The signs and symptoms of most forms of memory impairment can vary in severity from person to person. It’s important to note—many symptoms of Lewy body dementia overlap with other forms of memory impairment or cognitive problems. 

A senior man in his sleepwear lying down in his bed having trouble falling asleep.

As Lewy body dementia progresses, it can lead to more severe symptoms that can greatly affect a person’s everyday life. These can include:

  • Memory loss 
  • Disorientation
  • Significant trouble sleeping
  • Vivid dreams that cause a person to thrash or move around in their sleep
  • Visual problems with depth perception
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Unpredictable changes in personality and behavior
  • Extreme shakes or tremors
  • Difficulty with movement

Due to the nature of memory impairment, these symptoms can greatly impact a person’s life negatively. 

Often, if a person is diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, it’s recommended that they move to a memory care community. These communities are specifically set up to help support residents suffering from memory impairment, and the teams on-site are specially trained to help deal with the complications caused by these conditions. 

Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s

Lewy body dementia is an umbrella term for neurological disorders caused by the buildup of alpha-synuclein—the Lewy bodies that build up in the brain. The two most common conditions caused by these protein deposits are Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Both conditions can have overlapping symptoms, making it difficult to determine which condition a person may be developing.

The best way to differentiate these two conditions is by looking at how they affect a person. 

Typically, Parkinson’s disease causes significant trouble with movement and motor function but doesn’t tend to cause cognitive decline until later stages. However, dementia with Lewy bodies causes problems with both cognitive function and movement. The Lewy bodies that build up affect different parts of the brain in each of these conditions, leading to different side effects.

Where to Get Help for Lewy Body Dementia

The nature of these conditions and their serious impact on cognitive function can make it so a person suffering from them can no longer perform their daily activities. This causes them to need significant support from their loved ones, leading to their friends and family experiencing caregiver burnout.

This is when it’s time to consider memory care. These communities are specially designed to help support people suffering from all forms of memory impairment and are set up in a safe and supportive manner to give each person the care they need. The teams working in these communities work closely with healthcare professionals to tailor a plan to help meet each resident’s unique needs.

Here at Fox Trail in Mahwah, we understand the complex nature of conditions like Lewy body dementia, and we’re here to give your loved one the care and support they deserve. Schedule a tour today to see for yourself.

Ryan Donahue

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

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