Dementia with lewy bodies is a type of dementia that has many similarities to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The disease is characterised by the presence of “lewy bodies”, clumps of abnormal proteins that accumulate in the brain and are only seen after death if an autopsy is carried out. Lewy Body dementia has a number of distinct phases, so what are the lewy body dementia stages?
Like all types of dementia, patients with lewy body dementia will slowly deteriorate over time, typically over the course of several years. The symptoms of dementia with lewy bodies are broadly similar to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but they do not necessarily occur in the same order. However, there is some crossover and patients with Alzheimer’s can also have dementia with lewy bodies, and vice versa, a condition known as a “variant”.
What are the lewy body dementia stages?
Unlike other types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the symptoms of dementia with lewy bodies can have a rapid onset and the patient may show a sharp decline in the early stages of the disease. The disease also tends to progress much faster than some other forms of dementia, although this will vary according to the individual and whether there is other type of dementia involved.
Some patients show very few symptoms in the early stages of dementia with lewy bodies, but this can vary greatly and symptoms of the disease may fluctuate a great deal. One of the earliest signs of lewy body dementia is REM sleep behaviour disorder and the symptoms of this are thought to be a major risk factor for the later development of dementia with lewy bodies. On average, people suffer from REM sleep behaviour sleep disorder for about eleven years before other signs and symptoms of dementia with lewy bodies become evident.
As the disease progresses, the patient will begin to lose cognitive function and suffer from problems with alertness and attention. Higher level mental faculties will be affected and the patient may start to have difficulties planning ahead and undertaking more complex mental tasks. Memory will be affected, but less so than in cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of the symptoms of dementia with lewy bodies also replicate those seen in Parkinson’s disease. Stiffness of gait and a tendency to shuffle can occur in patients in the middle stages of dementia with lewy bodies. The patient might also suffer from a loss of facial expression and their voice might change in tone and strength.
As the disease develops, hallucinations are a common feature of dementia with lewy bodies, and these, in conjunction with Parkinson’s type symptoms, are often the best way of diagnosing Lewy body dementia. The hallucinations will often be extremely detailed and real to the patient, although rarely frightening or disturbing. The patient might even recognise that what they are seeing is not real.
In the final stages of dementia with lewy bodies, symptoms will worsen and the patient may display the symptoms of late stage Alzheimer’s, including profound memory loss, aggression, disorientation, and confusion, although unlike with Alzheimer’s, periods of lucidity will occur. Symptoms specific to dementia with lewy bodies include more severe delusions involving supernatural beings and conspiracy theories.