Lewy body dementia is the second most common progressive, degenerative dementia after Alzheimer's disease. Also known as dementia with Lewy bodies (protein deposits), it develops in the nerve cells in the areas of the brain that involve memory, thinking, and motor control. Once Lewy body dementia develops, the patient's mental abilities slowly begin to decline.
One of the most defining effects of Lewy body dementia is the experience of vivid visual hallucinations. Patients report seeing animals, shapes, and people who are not truly there. Hallucinations affecting the other senses, such as the olfactory and auditory systems, are also possible, though less common. Other symptoms include decreased attention and alertness, confusion, drowsiness, apathy, and Parkinson's-like effects, such as slow movements, shuffled walking, rigid muscles, and uncontrollable tremors. Furthermore, the disease can cause defects in the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, such as with a patient's pulse, blood pressure, digestion, and ability to pass bowel movements.
Use simple instructions when interacting with a person with Lewy body dementia. This is particularly important for family members and carers of patients, or anyone else who interacts with the patient on a regular basis. It is very easy for patients to become disoriented, confused, scared, frustrated, or angry, so making things as simple as possible for them is crucial for them to function as normally as is feasible and avoid aggravating symptoms. Break down instructions into simple, short steps, and try to focus on the successes instead of failure. It's also important not to rush the person into a response. Allow them time to process and try on their own before presenting the next instruction. Speak slowly and clearly while maintaining eye contact, and utilize gestures, objects, and other cues whenever possible. This can be as simple as pointing to an object. Committing to this style of communication will make life easier and more relaxed for both parties involved.
Establishing rituals and adhering to daily routines is another crucial part of living with Lewy body dementia. Having a routine has a normalizing effect and can help the patient focus and feel like they have more control over their lives. Chaos and disorganization can be a trigger, so maintaining a sense of normalcy and duty to a schedule is important. The negative effects and behaviors associated with Lewy body dementia tend to worsen at night, so establishing a nighttime and bedtime routine should be a high priority. Calming rituals before bed can make sleep better, as opposed to watching television, and leaving soft night lights on can assist with preventing disorientation and panic.
Stimulating The Mind
As Lewy body dementia causes the brain to degenerate, any activity that involves stimulating the mind is a good form of treatment. They do not have to be such extreme measures. Think of puzzles, crosswords, and other easily accomplishable activities that will require the patient to use thinking skills and exercise their brain. Whereas following instructions and having extended conversations might cause the patient to become frustrated, completing a puzzle or doing an independent mental exercise on their own time allows them the freedom to work their mind while being free from the fear of feeling embarrassed. In doing so, the inevitable mental decline is put off, allowing the patient to have a better connection with their mind and senses for a longer period. Of course, when selecting a puzzle or similar activity, try to avoid overly complicated ones, as this can cause aggravation (even in healthy adults).
A holistic approach to care also works as an effective complement to traditional treatment. Alternative therapies include getting a pet to take care of, something that can drastically improve the patient's mood and outlook on life. Pet minding also allows the patient to have a companion that doesn't require much from them, taking away the potential for frustration when communicating with family, friends, and carers.
Exercising regularly has also been shown to slow down the cognitive decline as well as decrease symptoms of depression, as the endorphins released after exercise are the natural 'feel good' chemicals in the body. Feelings of anxiety and frustration commonly accompany dementia, so using alternative therapies that promote relaxation are also important and beneficial. Music therapy can help stimulate the mind and bring back good memories, as well as help them feel a sense of tranquility with the soothing sounds from an instrument or album. The use of essential oils for aromatherapy and massage therapy are some of the more popular recommendations. When combined, listening to soothing music and smelling the aroma of fragrant essential oils induces a calming and relaxing effect, and receiving a light massage can also work to ease the pains associated with rigid muscles.