Peter Heath

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

The central feature of Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a progressive decline of the cognitive system. In the initial stages, this potentially devastating condition may present as fluctuations in attention span and alertness, (switching between bad and better in a matter of a few minutes, or a few hours), an inability to plan ahead, difficulties with decision making and coordinating mental activities. It's not uncommon for sufferers to ‘zone out’, or stare into space for lengthy periods of time. Speech may also be affected and become disorganised and may vary randomly in tone and volume, making communication difficult.

In many cases, from the onset of DLB, Parkinsonian type symptoms are presented with a slowing of movement, stiffness and trembling of the limbs, and difficulty in walking, accompanied by blank facial expression. Difficulties with visuospatial skills further complicate the individual's life experience, with the sufferer unable to judge distances owing to the loss of spatial awareness and three-dimensional perception, manifesting itself as an inability to reach out and touch objects accurately and to understand one's relative position in a particular space. Individuals with DLB are particularly prone to falls. Clearly driving or operating any potentially dangerous machinery under these circumstances would carry a massive risk and should be avoided.

Distressing visual hallucinations and delusions also harass sufferers of DLB and they appear to be totally convincing and last for several minutes. Imaginary hearing of sounds and voices can also present problems as these can induce fear and discomfort. Misperceptions are also experienced by some and it's not uncommon for hanging coats and shadows to be seen as people (as in Alzheimer's).

Fainting spells may also be experienced during waking hours and sufferers may lose consciousness for several minutes at a time.

Sleep disturbances are also prevalent and sufferers can nod off unexpectedly during the day and yet have great difficulty sleeping at night. Disturbances during sleep often present as violent movements, shouting out and attacking imaginary assailants. It can make sleeping with partners a risky business.

Urinary incontinence can also be experienced along with constipation, a difficulty with swallowing and consequently the distinct possibility of choking.

In the later stages of the disease, the symptoms of Alzheimers and Parkinsons become more prevalent and memory problems set in with trembling becoming a larger issue.

Eventually, individuals suffering from DLB will need round the clock care. Life expectancy from the initial onset of symptoms may vary between 2 and 12 years.

Dementia with Lewy bodies risk factors:

1. Age. Being older than 60 increases your chances.

2. Sex. Inexplicably, Lewy bodies affect men more than women

4. Family history. If any other family members have Lewy bodies, your chances increase.