Early and accurate diagnosis of LBD, while not always easy to do, is of critical importance for two reasons.
- First, people with LBD may respond more favorably to certain dementia medications than people with Alzheimer’s, allowing for early treatment that may improve or extend the quality of life for both the person with LBD and their caregiver.
- Secondly, many people with LBD respond more poorly to certain medications for behavior and movement than people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, sometimes with dangerous or permanent side effects.
By learning about common forms of dementia, you can help your physician most quickly identify what type of dementia has developed.
Common Forms of Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include a progressive loss of recent memory; problems with language, calculation, abstract thinking, and judgment; depression or anxiety; personality and behavioral changes; and disorientation to time and place.
Lewy body dementia (LBD) is an umbrella term for a form of dementia that has three common presentations.
- Some individuals will start out with a memory or cognitive disorder that may resemble Alzheimer’s disease, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent leading to the diagnosis of ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’ (DLB). Symptoms that differentiate it from Alzheimer’s include unpredictable levels of cognitive ability, attention or alertness, changes in walking or movement, visual hallucinations, a sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, in which people physically act out their dreams, and severe sensitivity to medications for hallucinations. In some cases, the sleep disorder can precede the dementia and other symptoms of LBD by decades.
- Others will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease and later develop dementia and other symptoms common in DLB.
- Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities, leading to an initial diagnosis of DLB.
Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features, all caused by the presence of Lewy bodies throughout the brain.
Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small strokes that deprive the brain of vital oxygen. Symptoms, such as disorientation in familiar locations; walking with rapid, shuffling steps; incontinence; laughing or crying inappropriately; difficulty following instructions; and problems handling money may appear suddenly and worsen with additional strokes. High blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol are some of the risk factors for stroke that may be controlled to prevent vascular dementia.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) includes several disorders with a variety of symptoms. The most common signs of FTD include changes in personality and behavior, such as inappropriate or compulsive behavior, euphoria, apathy, decline in personal hygiene, and a lack of awareness concerning these changes. Some forms of FTD involve language and speech symptoms or movement changes.