Lewy body dementia is a medical condition that causes abnormal deposits of alpha-synuclein, Lewy bodies, in the brain. These protein deposits have an adverse reaction on the brain and create problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood. The protein deposits are one of the leading causes of dementia. The symptoms of Lewy body dementia are difficult to diagnose because it is similar to other brain conditions. This brain disease simulates Alzheimer's and schizophrenia symptoms and can be found among other brain disorders. Individuals can be diagnosed with dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson's disease with dementia. There are more than one million individuals in the United States diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. Symptoms typically begin in those aged fifty and over and may affect younger individuals.
A hallucination is a vision that is not there. During a hallucination, individuals can also smell things and hear voices. When individuals hear voices, they can be inside or outside their head. These voices are called an auditory hallucination, and they can be talking to the affected individual or each other. A visual hallucination can be frightening and may include patients seeing bugs crawling on them or someone else.
Individuals can also have olfactory hallucinations and smell things that are not there. Some have gustatory hallucinations that interfere with the ability to taste what they are eating. A tactile hallucination makes individuals feel things crawling on their skin. The protein deposits that form on the brain due to Lewy body disease cause hallucinations.
Of course, hallucinating is not the only symptom of this condition. Keep reading to learn more signs, including how these deposits can also bring on movement disorders and the poor regulation of body functions.
Issues With Movement
Since Lewy bodies affect the chemicals in the brain, patients have issues with movement. The cerebellum is in the back of the brain and controls balance and coordination. It allows muscles to move together when performing physical activities, including walking, playing sports, or riding a bicycle.
When a disease alters the primary motor cortex, the body cannot regulate motor functions. This area of the brain controls the neural impulses and synapses that manage movement. The signals created here travel through the body to trigger skeletal muscles on opposite sides of the body. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, and the right hemisphere handles the left side.
The secondary motor cortices include the parietal cortex, premotor cortex, and the supplementary motor area. These areas of the brain handle spatial and sensory guidance of movement. Lewy bodies interfere with the synapses in the patient's brain and muscles, making it difficult for them to control their hands and fingers. As a result, patients lose the basic ability to steer their hand and lack the coordination needed to pick up a glass.
Depression And Apathy
The chemicals in the brain also control emotions and manage depression and apathy. The hippocampus, which produces cortisol and stores memories, is in the center of the brain. During times of physical and mental stress, the body releases cortisol, but in depression, too much is produced.
Signs of depression include loss of interest in performing activities the individual once enjoyed and overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Individuals experience changes in appetite that cause their weight to fluctuate. They may not be able to sleep and always feel tired, their ability to make decisions and concentration becomes unstable, and they may have suicidal thoughts. Some think about death and have attempted suicide.
Many patients with Lewy body disease suffer from depression because the protein deposits grow inside nerve cells and the spinal cord. These areas control the release of neurotransmitters responsible for releasing the chemicals that monitor your mood.
Problems Regulating Body Functions
The medulla is the part of the brain responsible for regulating body functions. It is cone-shaped and holds the nerve cell mass that manages the body's involuntary functions, including heart rate, breathing, blood vessel dilation, and digestion. The medulla also controls sneezing, swallowing, vomiting, as well as respiration and circulation. The sensory and motor neurons transmit signals from the forebrain and midbrain to the medulla. The medulla receives blood from the anterior spinal artery, posterior inferior cerebellar artery, and the vertebral artery's direct branches.
When someone has Lewy body dementia, these tissues are affected by the abnormal protein growth of infected cells, causing sensory problems and can be attributed to issues regulating body functions. Patients can lose the ability to control bladder function and become disturbed by the frequent need to urinate.
Since the medulla manages the heart, patients tend to suffer from irregular heartbeats, dizziness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness. The ability to regulate body temperature is loss and contributes to excessive shivering and perspiring.
The abnormal cell growth caused by Lewy bodies affects the ability to sleep and causes confusion. Many patients with this brain disorder have insomnia and have difficulty falling asleep. The hypothalamus controls sleep functions and shuts down the brain's arousal signals. The ventrolateral preoptic nucleus is in the hypothalamus and is directly connected to the switch between sleeping and wakefulness.
The neurons in the brainstem are responsible for managing neurotransmitters and producing chemicals that make you fall asleep. It is also the area that regulates the circadian clock and sending arousal signals to the cerebral cortex. Besides keeping individuals alert, these signals aid with learning, thinking and retaining information. Lewy bodies grow on the sleep centers of the brain, which is how difficulties with sleep are brought about. They interfere with the entire process that helps patients go to sleep and wake up at a specific hour, so their sleep cycle is unstable.
Memory Loss Or Confusion
As Lewy body protein deposits develop in the brain, patients start to experience memory loss or confusion. The cognitive issues tend to be similar to those experienced by patients with Alzheimer's disease. The confusion tends to vary significantly from one day to another. Affected individuals may be confused about where or who they are on one day, and the next day experience very little cognitive impairment. A patient's alertness might also vary widely. Along with the confusion, it's common for individuals to experience changes in their reasoning and thinking. In fact, studies indicate impaired judgment can be one of the earliest signs of dementia. One difference between Lewy body dementia and Alzheimer's disease is while memory loss tends to be significant, it's less prominent than with Alzheimer's disease. Other symptoms of cognitive impairment tend to be more serious.
Lapses In Attention
Lewy body dementia often presents with lapses in attention, similar to the way other dementia-related conditions present. In addition to difficulty concentrating, people may experience executive dysfunction. Executive functioning is the portion of the brain that helps individuals execute tasks. When this portion of the brain is impaired, it can be difficult to carry out basic tasks, even if an individual wants to do them. Executive dysfunction differs slightly from a lapse in concentration, but the two often go hand-in-hand. The symptoms may be similar to those seen in conditions like ADD. Studies have also shown patients with Lewy body dementia tend to have slowed reaction times in comparison to healthy individuals. There may be drowsy episodes, long naps in the day, or long periods where an individual stares into space.
Disorganized speech is a common component of Lewy body dementia. It may occur alongside cognitive issues like executive dysfunction and confusion. Disorganized speech tends to occur because patients have problems maintaining their train of thought and concentrating. An individual with disorganized speech may say incoherent things, give unrelated answers to questions, make illogical statements, or shift between topics with no connections. Word preservation occurs when the affected individual repeats the same idea or words over and over. There may also be made-up words only the speaker understands. Rhyming phrases and words may be used despite their meaninglessness. If cognitive impairment is severe enough, understanding the patient might become nearly impossible.
Lewy body dementia patients may experience visual-spatial issues along with hallucinations. As discussed previously, hallucinations can often be the first symptom of the illness and also tend to recur. Visual hallucinations are the most common, although some patients also experience tactile, smell-related, and auditory hallucinations. Patients may react to or speak to animals or people who aren't actually there. Visual-spatial processing refers to the ability to understand where objects are in a space. It includes being able to tell how far one is from something, where one's body parts are, and how far the distance between objects is. Issues with visual-spatial processing can make it difficult to do things like drive a car, walk, or move objects to their ideal position.
Rigid Muscles Or Tremors
Individuals with Lewy body dementia might have movement symptoms like rigid muscles or tremors. These symptoms are consistent with those seen in Parkinson's disease. Affected individuals may fall more often. While tremors are often present, they don't tend to have the same severity as with Parkinson's disease. There are other movement symptoms as well. Patients may also develop a sleep disorder that disrupts their REM sleep, leading to body movement and vivid dreams. Some patients may also have increased depression and dizziness. It may be difficult for the body to regulate itself because of a decrease in the autonomic nervous system's function. This can cause issues with digestion, pulse, blood pressure, and sweating. Bowel issues like constipation are common.