Dementia with Lewy bodies

We answer your questions about dementia with Lewy bodies.

Dementia with Lewy bodies accounts for approximately 10 to 15 percent of all cases of dementia in older people.

What is dementia with Lewy bodies?

Lewy bodies are tiny protein deposits found in nerve cells. Their presence in the brain interrupts the action of chemical messengers, disrupting normal brain function. 

There are similarities dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease. 

What are the symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies?

Dementia with Lewy bodies can impair your loved one’s memory, language and reasoning. It progresses at about the same rate as Alzheimer’s disease. However, unlike Alzheimer’s disease, the condition is characterised by pronounced changes in your loved one’s abilities and attention span. 

Dementia with Lewy bodies can affect the area of the brain that controls movement, balance, vision and visual recognition. As a result, people living with dementia with Lewy bodies may have the following symptoms: 
  • Difficulty moving, which can result in falls. 
  • Difficulty judging distances (for example, they might go to sit on a seat and totally miss it).
  • Slowed movement. 
  • Stiffness in their muscles. 
  • Tremors or a shuffling walk.
  • Hallucinations (ie they see people, objects or animals that aren’t there). 
It’s really important to remember that the abilities of a person living with dementia with Lewy bodies can change all the time, almost by the hour. So, although your loved one might be able to carry out a task in the morning, they might not be able to do the same task that night.
Confused elderly man

How is dementia with Lewy bodies diagnosed? 

There is no single test to diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies. Instead, your loved one’s GP will carry out a physical examination and check their medical history to rule out other conditions, such as depression, that could be causing these symptoms. 

They may then refer your loved one to a specialist (neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist) for further tests such as: 
  • A brain scan, using a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to check for any brain damage.
  • Cognitive tests to look at your loved one’s memory, language and concentration. 
For more information on how to test for vascular dementia click here.

How is dementia with Lewy bodies treated?

There is currently no cure for dementia with Lewy bodies or any way to reverse the damage that’s already occurred. 
However, your loved one’s doctor may prescribe medications to help with the symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies, such as: 
  • Cholinesterase inhibitors to help with alertness and cognition. 
  • Parkinson’s disease medications to help with rigid muscles and slow movements. Unfortunately, however, this medication can often make hallucinations worse. 
  • Antipsychotic medications to help with drowsiness, confusion, delusions and hallucinations. 

If you're caring for someone living with dementia with Lewy bodies, you may like to talk to a real person about questions you have or challenges you're facing. The Bupa Aged Care Support Line can give you access to a health professional who can offer support and tailored information on how you can help.

Bupa aged care support line

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