Many avenues of research are being explored to improve our understanding of Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Lewy Body Dementia has affected over 55 million individuals globally and it will take about five to eight years after diagnosis before death, but can range from two to 20 years.
LBD is a disease associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-syncline in the brain. These deposits, called Lewy bodies, affect chemicals in the brain whose changes, in turn, can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood. Lewy body dementia is one of the most common causes of dementia.
According to researches, diagnosing LBD can be challenging. Early LBD symptoms are often confused with similar symptoms found in other brain diseases or in psychiatric disorders. Lewy body dementia can occur alone or along with other brain disorders.
WHO says in the early stages of LBD, symptoms can be mild, and people can function fairly normally. As the disease advances, people with LBD require more help due to a decline in thinking and movement abilities. In the later stages of the disease, they often depend entirely on others for assistance and care.
Some LBD symptoms may respond to treatment for a period of time. Currently, there is no cure for the disease. Research is improving our understanding of this challenging condition, and advances in science may one day lead to better diagnosis, improved care, and new treatments.
Another Consultant Psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatrist Hospital, Yaba, Dr Dapo Adegbaju, says the cause of the disorder is mostly unknown “but there have been theories about genetics especially with the coding for the protein causing it but the disease is more common in males than females.
“The prevalence of the disease in Nigeria is not known. Although the prevalence of all types of dementia is about five per cent. “People with Lewy Body Dementia may have hallucinations, poor sleep, poor concentration, movement issues leading to falls most times, and poor memory, he added.”
The psychiatrist noted that LBD is progressive and the symptoms worsen, causing depression, fractures, bleeding into the brain, anxiety, agitation, and restlessness.
“Diagnosis is made by a psychiatrist who will notice a decline in cognitive abilities, memory, and movement. Magnetic Resonance Imaging may help but the definitive diagnosis is at autopsy.
“Other known risk factors for LBD include certain diseases and health conditions, particularly Parkinson’s disease and REM sleep behavior disorder, which have been linked to a higher risk of LBD.
“Having a family member with LBD also may increase a person’s risk, though LBD is not considered a genetic disease. Variants in three genes — APOE, SNCA, and GBA — have been associated with an increased risk, but in most cases, the cause is unknown”, he stated.
The WHO lists LBD causes changes in thinking abilities. These changes may include:
Visual hallucinations or seeing things that are not present. Visual hallucinations occur in up to 80 percent of people with LBD, often early on. Nonvisual hallucinations, such as hearing or smelling things that are not present, are less common than visual ones but may also occur.
Unpredictable changes in concentration, attention, alertness, and wakefulness from day to day and sometimes throughout the day. Ideas may be disorganised, unclear, or illogical. These kinds of changes are common in LBD and may help distinguish it from Alzheimer’s disease.
Severe loss of thinking abilities that interfere with daily activities. Unlike in Alzheimer’s dementia, memory problems may not be evident at first but often arise as LBD progresses. Other changes related to thinking may include poor judgment, confusion about time and place, and difficulty with language and numbers.
“Some people with LBD may not experience significant movement problems for several years. Others may have them early on. At first, movement symptoms, such as a change in handwriting, may be very mild and easily overlooked”, he added.
Scientists hope that new knowledge about LBD will one day lead to more effective treatments and even ways to cure and prevent the disorder. Until then, researchers need volunteers with and without LBD for clinical studies.