What Causes Lewy Body Dementia?

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Named after German neurologist Dr. Friedrich Lewy, Lewy body dementia (LBD) is the second most common type of progressive dementia—just behind Alzheimer’s disease. What’s also referred to as dementia with Lewy bodies is primarily caused by the buildup of abnormal protein masses called Lewy bodies that develop inside nerve cells. These protein clumps can also contribute to Parkinson’s disease and other forms of dementia. Let’s take a closer look at the causes and risk factors associated with Lewy body dementia.

Protein Accumulation

Lewy body dementia develops because of the formation of protein masses or clumps known as Lewy bodies. These proteins are commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease. However, people who have these protein masses in their brains also have the same plaques and “tangles” (abnormal protein groupings) related to Alzheimer’s disease.

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Neurotransmitter Production Problems

When Lewy bodies accumulate, they also prevent the brain from producing two essential chemicals that transmit signals to nerve cells (neurotransmitters). One of these is acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in learning and memory. The other chemical is dopamine, an organic chemical that also acts as a neurotransmitter. Dopamine affects mood, movement, and sleep patterns. It’s still not known why abnormal protein clusters form or impede neurotransmitter production.

Family History and Other Risk Factors

It’s also not fully understood why some people have Lewy body protein clumps and others don’t. However, there are certain risk factors that are believed to be associated with Lewy body dementia. The first one is age. People 60 and older tend to be more likely to develop LBD. Men are also more affected than women. Lastly, older adults with other family members who had either LBD or Parkinson’s disease are considered to be more at risk for developing this type of dementia.

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Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Lewy body dementia sometimes develops alongside Parkinson’s disease and contributes to issues with mobility and movement. An early symptom associated with LBD is seeing images or shapes that aren’t there (hallucinations). Other seniors with LBD may experience:

• Dreams they physically act out and other sleep-related problems
• Uncontrolled body functions that affect processes related to sweating, blood pressure, and digestion
• Increased fatigue and drowsiness
• Depression and/or apathy

There’s no single test that can positively tell if an older adult has Lewy body dementia. A diagnosis is usually made once other possible sources of the symptoms being experienced have been ruled out by the process of elimination. Testing typically involves blood tests, physical and neurological exams, brain scans, and a general assessment of mental capabilities.

Most seniors are treated with a combination of medication and various therapies. When caring for a loved one with LBD, it can be helpful to:

• Reduce clutter and distraction in the immediate environment
• Create familiar and consistent daily routines and break tasks down into easy-to-complete steps
• Maintain eye contact while also speaking clearly and slowly so your words can be understood
• Encourage regular exercise and mental stimulation that might involve word puzzles and games
• Offer reassurance and validation when concerns are expressed, even if you know your loved one is irrational

Aging in place can present a few challenges for seniors living with dementia. However, they can still live independently at home with the help of professional dementia care. Mesa, AZ, families can rely on Home Care Assistance to provide their elderly loved ones with mental and social stimulation, timely medication reminders, assistance with meal prep, and much more. Our caregivers are available around the clock to help your loved one live a happier and healthier life. Call one of our experienced Care Managers today at (480) 699-4899 to schedule a complimentary consultation.