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What Is Lewy Body Dementia?

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Lewy bodies are clumps of protein that can form in the brain. When they build up, they can cause problems with the way your brain works, including your memory, movement, thinking skills, mood, and behavior. These problems can keep you from doing everyday tasks or taking care of yourself, a condition called dementia.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is one of the most common types of dementia, after Alzheimer’s disease. It usually happens to people who are 50 or over. There are two types:

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  • Dementia with Lewy bodies often starts when you have a hard time moving your body. Within a year, you start to have thinking and memory problems that are similar to Alzheimer’s disease, along with changes in behavior. You also might see things that aren’t there, called hallucinations.
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia first causes movement problems. Trouble with memory happens much later in the disease.

Right now, there’s no cure for Lewy body dementia. But there are ways to ease symptoms for a while. Scientists are also getting better at understanding the differences between LBD and other conditions.

How Is LBD Different From Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s?

These diseases are similar in a lot of ways. But there are some key differences in the symptoms that affect people with LBD and when those symptoms happen.

LBD may not cause short-term memory loss like Alzheimer’s. People with both conditions have trouble with thinking, alertness, and paying attention. But in LBD, those problems come and go. The disease can also cause hallucinations, often in the first few years someone has LBD. People with Alzheimer’s usually don’t have hallucinations until the later stages.

People with LBD also often act out their dreams and make violent movements when they’re asleep. It’s called REM sleep behavior disorder. Sometimes, it’s the first sign that someone has LBD.

LBD and Parkinson’s disease both cause movement problems, like stiff muscles and tremors. But most people with Parkinson’s don’t have problems with their thinking and memory (dementia) until the very later stages of their disease. Sometimes, they don’t have it at all. In the type of LBD known as Parkinson’s disease with dementia, these problems begin much sooner.

People with LBD also need different drugs for their condition than the ones that treat Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

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