Published on: October 20, 2012
by Health Aim:
It has been estimated that about 1.3 million people have Lewy body dementia, but no one knows for sure due to the difficulty in diagnosing the condition. Lewy body dementia often poses a diagnostic challenge and is frequently misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, or a psychiatric disorder. Dr. James Galvin, a neurologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, said, “This is not an uncommon disease,” but many health care professionals remain unfamiliar with the disorder.
Dr. Galvin has published extensively on the subject of Lewy body dementia. Dr. Galvin said, “I don’t fault physicians for misdiagnosing it. It’s not that easy.” He added that cognitive decline that does not take the classic form of memory loss is a cue that you may not be dealing with Alzheimer’s. Lewy body dementia affects considerably more men than women and seems to progress more rapidly than Alzheimer’s.
Many Lewy body dementia patients lose cognitive ground and are prone to problems with executive function. They struggle to handle complex tasks, often develop visuospatial problems, and find it hard to navigate or perceive distances. Its victims lose their way in familiar settings or misjudge distances and fall, but they are less prone to the short-term memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s.
Lewy body dementia can also cause sleep disturbances in which people act out their unpleasant dreams. Dr. Galvin said, “People can appear drowsy or sleeping, have staring spells, think illogically and incoherently – and these episodes wax and wane, lasting seconds or minutes or hours. And they’re unpredictable.”
Certain antipsychotics and stimulants, and some Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s medications, can make life easier for patients and their families, but people with Lewy body dementia can have a bad reaction to certain antipsychotics and to some antinausea treatments. Dr. Galvin acknowledged, “There’s no way to repair the damage that’s been done. All you’re doing is slowing down the symptoms’ progression without changing the underlying disease.”
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