Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a form of dementia, which is a broad term for a disease of memory, thinking and/or social abilities that are severe enough to interfere with everyday activities. Healthdirect defines it as a “disorder where round clumps of protein (called Lewy bodies) build up abnormally in the brain, causing the death of nerve cells. ” LBD is also a form of Parkinsonism, meaning that it causes some or all of the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (tremor, stiffness, slowness, and walking/balance problems).

Additionally, LBD causes visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there) and unpredictable fluctuations in a person’s level of attention or alertness. Many people will also exhibit changes in mood (such as depression) and alterations in behavior or personality (including agitation or aggression). REM sleep behavior disorder (a condition in which people act out their dreams), fainting spells and low blood pressure can also be associated.

Symptoms of LBD may seem to arise in the course of several months or may be more gradual in onset. The symptoms do, unfortunately, worsen and people with LBD will require progressively more assistance over time.

Parkinson’s vs Lewy Body Dementia

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is characterised by motor symptoms, including resting tremor, stiffness, slowness, and walking/balance problems. The diagnosis of PD relies on the presence of slowness plus tremor and/or stiffness.

Diagnosing Parkinson’s or LBD can be difficult as both have motor symptoms and memory problems. There is no test that can diagnose Lewy body dementia so doctors make the diagnosis based on your medical history and their physical examination.

When significant memory problems develop within one year of the onset of Parkinson’s motor symptoms, LBD is more likely. When dementia develops in a person with Parkinson’s disease, it is usually 10-15 years after the other symptoms and is known as Parkinson’s disease dementia.


If I have Parkinson’s will I get Lewy Body Dementia?

The vast majority of people with Parkinson’s disease have Lewy bodies — clusters of abnormally folded proteins, including alpha-synuclein, which are found in the nerve cells in the brain. Not everyone with Parkinson’s disease who has Lewy bodies gets dementia.

Can I Prevent Lewy Body Dementia?

No therapies or behavioural changes have been identified that can prevent Lewy body dementia (LBD).

Recommendations that appear to reduce the risk factors of developing dementia include:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Interacting with others socially
  • Memory and thinking activities(e.g., reading, completing crossword puzzles, playing a musical instrument, etc.).
  • Decreasing stress and getting enough sleep — easier said than done! — are also beneficial for everyone, of course.

How is Lewy Body Dementia diagnosed?

According to Healthdirect, there is no specific test. If you have symptoms, you will likely be examined and assessed to see what mix of symptoms you have and the timing of the appearance of the symptoms. This can help make a diagnosis of either Parkinson’s disease, Parkinson’s disease with dementia, or dementia with Lewy bodies. To make a diagnosis, a neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist will assess your thinking and alertness, whether you have hallucinations, Parkinson’s symptoms (stiffness, slowness of movement) and how you sleep.

Dementia Australia says a full assessment for Lewy Body Disease or Lewy Body Dementia may include:

  • a medical history from the person
  • an interview with a family member
  • blood tests
  • tests of cognitive abilities
  • brain imaging
  • other medical tests as requested by a doctor or medical specialist.

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