To be honest, I didn’t really learn about Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) until I read a press clipping from New York University Langone Medical Center. I typically associate October with falling leaves, the sudden appearance of pumpkins everywhere, and my birthday, so I was surprised to learn that this month is also dedicated to raising awareness for a disease that affects about 1.3 million people in America.
Despite its prevalence, LBD is under-treated and under-recognized. It’s often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or Parkinson’s disease, despite being the second most-common form of dementia (surpassed only by AD). People with LBD typically experience a more rapid functional decline than those with Alzheimer’s, and there is a shorter interval between placement in a nursing home and death.
Lewy Body Dementia is aptly named for its etiology—abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies build up in the brain cells that control various aspects of memory and motor control; the interruptions of these systems is why LBD is widely misdiagnosed. Fortunately, patients with LBD usually respond more robustly than Alzheimer’s patients to medications used for AD, such as donepezil and rivastigmine, although these may worsen motor symptoms. They also respond well to levodopa, which is often prescribed for Parkinson’s.
Raising awareness is important because it leads to proper diagnoses, more research, and better treatments. My grandfather passed away several years ago from complications caused by Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a rare brain disorder that is sometimes misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s. Unfortunately, patients with PSP do not respond well to medications used to treat Parkinson’s. Lewy Body Dementia affects about twice as many people as Parkinson’s and 65 times more than PSP, which means a lot of misdiagnoses. Read more about the symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia and the available treatments on the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke resource page here.