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What is Lewy Body Dementia

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What is Lewy Body Dementia?

Dementia with Lewy bodies, or “Lewy Body Dementia”; is one of a group of brain disorders called “dementia”. Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language and problem solving skills that affect the ability to function in everyday life. Lewy Body Dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

It is estimated that Lewy Body Dementia accounts for up to 25 % of all types of dementia. It is likely that up to 10,000 people have the condition in the Republic of Ireland. The average age of diagnosis is mid 70s but the symptoms can be present in people as early as in their forties. Although the prognosis can vary from person to person, life expectancy from onset of cognitive symptoms is eight years on average.

The cause of Lewy Body Dementia is not known. It gets its name from a build-up of protein in brain cells called “Lewy bodies”. Lewy bodies are also seen in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, which is a brain disorder that affects movement. In people with Lewy Body Dementia, the Lewy bodies are more widely spread throughout the brain than in people with Parkinson’s disease.

How is it diagnosed?

The condition is generally diagnosed based on the symptoms reported and a neurological examination. Various neuro-psychological tests or ‘memory’ tests may be performed. The presence of the abnormal proteins called Lewy bodies can only be detected on a post mortem.

People who show some of the symptoms mentioned above should always seek an appointment with their general practitioner. Their GP can refer them to the appropriate service.  Lewy Body Dementia is often diagnosed in memory clinics run by geriatricians or by neurologists. The condition is also diagnosed by Psychiatrists of Later life. 

Input from family/friends can be very helpful in the assessment process so it is important that you attend your appointments with someone if possible. You may wish for your family member/friend to be present when the doctor discusses your care.

The specialist you see may send you for some tests to aid in the diagnosis or to outrule other problems. You may have blood tests and x rays like an MRI of your brain. One test which can be helpful in supporting a diagnosis is a DaTScan® which looks at dopamine levels in your brain. 

It may take one or several visits to the specialist clinic before a diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia is given.