This month’s Palm-Sized Prompt was on the topic of things you’ll never do/never do again, and people who are no longer in your life. I thought about writing about wanderlust or adventure, but when I sat down to write, I found what is generally true to still be so: we write about our obsessions. We put on the page the things that have been occupying our minds. This time, as I have before, I wrote about my grandfather and my struggle to understand what Lewy Body dementia is doing to him.
Lewy Body dementia, or dementia with Lewy Bodies, has gained more awareness in the past year and a half since Robin Williams’ death, but it is still an illness with which many are less familiar. Sharing symptoms with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, DLB may actually make up about 10 per cent of all cases of dementia, but it tends to be mistaken for other conditions.
Lewy bodies are tiny deposits of protein in nerve cells. Although researchers don’t know why they appear in the brain or how they contribute to dementia, the presence of Lewy bodies is linked to low levels of important chemical messengers and a loss of connections between nerve cells. Death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue occurs over time. Along with DLB, Lewy bodies are the underlying cause of other progressive diseases affecting the brain and nervous system, such as Parkinson’s.
Symptoms partly depend on where the Lewy bodies are located, with those at the base of the brain linked to problems with movement, and those in the outer layers of the brain linked to cognitive symptoms. However these issues can occur together; about one third of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s eventually develop dementia, and two thirds of people with DLB develop movement problems at some point.
Initial symptoms are usually subtle, but usually a person will have some symptoms of Alzheimer’s and some of Parkinson’s. Problems with attention and alertness are common, but it varies widely over the course of a day, hour, or even a few minutes. Difficulties with judging distances, perceiving objects in three dimensions, and planning and organizing are among other symptoms. Some people experience depression. Day-to-day memory is also affected, but not as much in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Visual hallucinations occur in most people with DLB, and less commonly auditory ones. Motor symptoms can lead to falls. Sleep disorders are also a common symptom; the person may fall asleep easily during the day, but have restless nights; they may exhibit violent movements as they try to act out nightmares.
As a progressive disease, symptoms become worse and more numerous with time, generally over several years. Day-to-day memory and other mental abilities begin to more closely resemble those of middle- or later-stage Alzheimer’s disease. People can also develop challenging behaviors, like agitation, restlessness, or shouting out. Worsening movement problems affect walking and make falls more common. In the later stages, many people have problems with speech and swallowing. Rate of progression varies, but on average a person might live for about eight years after the first symptoms, similar to Alzheimer’s.
You can find more information on the Alzheimer’s Society website: