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New Guidelines for Diagnosing Lewy Body Dementia

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerJuly 17, 2017

Lewy body dementia is a type of dementia with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Now, researchers have determined a new set of guidelines for diagnosing this type of dementia, which will hopefully lead to earlier detection and intervention of the disease.

Learn more about Lewy body dementia, how it differs from Alzheimer’s and what the new guidelines say about diagnosing the disease.

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body is a type of dementia also known as dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). After Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia is the third most common form of dementia and similar to Alzheimer’s, it results in a progressive decline in mental abilities. Lewy body dementia is estimated to account for 10-25% of all dementia cases.

People with Lewy body dementia may experience:

  • Acting out dreams (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Disorder)
  • Balance problems
  • Changes in alertness
  • Changes in attention
  • Delusions
  • Memory loss
  • Rigid muscles
  • Slow movement
  • Tremors
  • Visual hallucinations

Memory loss in Alzheimer’s is more prominent than early DLB but movement symptoms are more likely to show earlier in DLB than in Alzheimer’s. People with DLB also experience delusions and loss of facial recognition earlier in DLB than in Alzheimer’s. Additionally, dizziness, falls and incontinence are more common in people with DLB than in Alzheimer’s.

Because DLB has similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, it is difficult to diagnose early. There is no known treatment for DLB and no way to stop or slow the disease. Current treatment methods focus on managing the symptoms associated with DLB and include antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, cholinesterase inhibitors and sleep medication, for treating the changes that come from the disease.

New Guidelines for Diagnosing Lewy Body Dementia Encourage Early Intervention

A new study has discovered biomarkers affiliated with Lewy body dementia, leading to new guidelines for diagnosing the disease. The study, published in the journal Neurology, will hopefully lead to earlier detection of DLB. Because the disease shares so many symptoms with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions, it is incredibly difficult to diagnose early, limiting the management of the disease and its symptoms.

Jim Leverenz, chair of the Lewy Body Dementia Association’s Scientific Advisory Council said, “There is now a consensus amongst experts on DLB that certain symptoms, specifically REM sleep behavior disorder, and tests results, formal sleep study, and brain and cardiac imaging, are highly predictive for the presence of Lewy bodies in the brain.

“For this reason, the consensus criteria have been updated to include these findings and now provide important guidance to clinicians trying to diagnose DLB.”

The new guidelines say that dementia symptoms are the starting point for a DLB diagnosis. Additionally, REM sleep behavior disorder, visual hallucinations or uncontrolled movements can be present. Doctors are also encouraged to use tests to detect early signs of DLB including brain scans and MIBG myocardial scintigraphy which detects limited connection between cardiac nerves.

Researchers hope their findings encourage earlier diagnoses, giving doctors more insight into how the disease progresses and hopefully, how to slow or stop the disease. Leverenz says:

“It is hoped that these new criteria will allow clinicians to diagnose DLB earlier in the disease and thus improve treatment and management for this devastating disease.”

Do you have a loved one with DLB? Would he or she have benefitted from an earlier diagnosis? We’d like to hear more about your experiences in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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