by Oliver Wolf
Lewy body dementia is a very prevalent disease that affects a multitude of people every day. It is considered the third most common type of progressive dementia, ranking only behind Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. It is estimated that LBD affects over 1.4 million individuals in the United States alone. “Because LBD symptoms can closely resemble other more commonly known diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is currently widely under-diagnosed” ("What Is LBD?" Lewy Body Dementia Association, n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2016.). Both Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies fall under the umbrella term LBD. Although the early symptoms of the diseases are different, they both ultimately result in the same decline in cognitive ability.
Lewy bodies are protein deposits that develop in different areas of the brain. Parkinson-like symptoms appear when the Lewy proteins deplete dopamine in the brain stem. In Lewy body dementia, the proteins travel through other parts of the brain. In the cerebral cortex, the proteins deplete acetylcholine and cause changes in perception, thinking, and behavior. Lewy bodies bring about a progressive deterioration in mental abilities. Some symptoms of Lewy body dementia are visual hallucinations and changes in alertness, as well as symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, such as rigid muscles, tremors, and slow movement. As more time goes on, individuals affected by both diseases will establish comparable cognitive, physical, sleep, and behavioral symptoms.
Although a conclusive diagnosis is difficult to make because LBD symptoms often take a couple of years to appear, a formal diagnosis is key to early treatment that may improve the quality of life for the person affected. A diagnosis should be made by a clinician after conducting a diagnostic evaluation. Because LBD involves many different bodily aspects, it is most effective to gather a team of physicians from different specialties to act in concert. Successful treatment comes from a precise balance between each physician whose job is to provide the best treatment for each symptom without exacerbating any of the other symptoms. Most symptoms can be combated with medication, however, people living with LBD can often be very sensitive to certain medicines used to treat Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, so it is important be mindful of how medications make you feel.
It is very overwhelming to live with an incurable disease. Because treatment for Lewy body dementia is based on symptom management, it is crucial to stay on top of the disease from as early as possible. Be proactive! This means reaching out to friends and family for support, working closely with doctors to effectively manage the disease, and adapting a lifestyle that accommodates the effects of LBD. It is of the utmost importance to stay informed and learn as much as possible about LBD and how it is most likely to affect you based on your age, health history, and current lifestyle. Being more knowledgeable about your disease means being more in control of your disease. The symptoms of Lewy bodies are often intensified by anxiety and stress, so it is vital to find ways to control these feelings. Pet therapy, music therapy, and meditation are all effective stress-relievers. In addition to stress and anxiety, depression has also been riddling the LBD community. It is crucial to report any symptoms of depression to your doctor so it can be managed properly. It is often the case that treating depression makes it much easier to combat the other symptoms of LBD. Avoiding isolation is another important part of dealing with dementia. Talking to other people dealing with the same issues through a support group can help with feelings of loneliness as well as offer a wonderful network that can provide an abundance of new and valuable information.
Even though some components of LBD remain under-researched and unknown, there are many things that can be done to help cope with the disease and improve the quality of life for those affected. It is important to remember that you are not alone and truly have the ability to help manage your own affliction. Stay informed and stay strong!
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