Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) was first described in 1961,
and is now thought to affect more than 130,000 people in the UK, writes Rachel
Wooller, outreach worker with the Alzheimer’s Society. "Lewy bodies",
named after the doctor who identified them in 1912, are small protein deposits
found inside the damaged brain cells.
DLB is a progressive disease. This means the symptoms get
worse over time. It is distinguishable from Alzheimer’s disease by its more
rapid progression and its physical symptoms. The commonest features of DLB are
memory, word finding and concentration problems, but many people experience
hallucinations. The ability to judge distances and spatial relationships can
also be impaired. Another feature is physical problems associated with
Parkinson’s disease: a shuffling gait, tremor and physical rigidity.
People suffering from DLB often find their levels of
confusion fluctuate and they experience periods of acute confusion and periods
of lucidity in the same day, which can be disconcerting for carers.
DLB can affect anyone, although there are rare instances of
genetic inheritance. It is difficult to pinpoint other risk factors, as the causes
of this type of dementia are not known. DLB is diagnosed by looking at the
cluster of symptoms and by excluding other possible causes. Lewy bodies
themselves can be detected only after death.
There is no cure for DLB, but some symptoms respond well to
medication. Use of anti-Alzheimer’s drugs Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl for DLB
suggest that these medications may be effective.