Alzheimer's disease may come to mind when you hear the word dementia, but the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA) wants you also to think of Parkinson's disease dementia (PDD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), two related diagnoses collectively referred to as Lewy body dementia (LBD). The nonprofit organization is using this week, Brain Awareness Week (March 10 to 16), to educate professional and family caregivers as well as those who have PDD or DLB.
LBD is the most misdiagnosed form of dementia and, following Alzheimer's disease, is the second most common cause of progressive dementia, according to the group. The brain disorder affects 1.3 million Americans, impairing their thinking, movement, sleep and behavior (causing people to hallucinate or act out dreams, sometimes violently), the LBDA says. Also, it affects autonomic body functions such as blood pressure control, temperature regulation and digestion.
PDD and DLB differ in the presentation of two specific symptoms based on the "one-year rule," according to the LBDA. With DLB, cognitive symptoms that interfere with daily living appear before or within a year of movement problems resembling Parkinson's disease. With PDD, disabling cognitive symptoms do not develop until more than a year after movement problems begin.
LBD is characterized by an abnormal buildup of Lewy bodies (alpha-synuclein protein deposits) in the areas of the brain that regulate behavior, memory, movement and personality. By contrast, Alzheimer's disease is thought to be related to beta-amyloid deposits and tau tangles that damage nerve cells, primarily affecting learning and memory. The most prominent symptoms of Parkinson's disease affect motor abilities.
Changes in the brain may be caused by more than one memory disorder, complicating diagnosis, the group notes. Recognizing symptoms early, however, can help ensure that those with the disease obtain appropriate treatment and caregivers obtain support, the LBDA says. Because people with LBD respond differently to certain treatments used for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, healthcare professionals recommend a cautious approach to therapy. In particular, up to 50 percent of people with LBD treated with any antipsychotic medication may experience dangerous side effects or potentially fatal symptoms of neuroleptic malignant syndrome, according to the organization.
Brain Awareness Week is a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.