What’s the Difference Between Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s?

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Learn the difference between the commonly confused Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Each year, thousands of American seniors are told they have Parkinson’s disease, when in fact, they do not. For a number of these people, the correct diagnosis is a very similar, but not as well-known disease: Lewy body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

Dementia with Lewy bodies impacts as many as 1.4 million Americans, as reported by the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA). That approximation may perhaps be too low given that a number of people who have been incorrectly identified as having Parkinson’s still haven’t been given an accurate diagnosis.

Both dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD) are considered Lewy body dementias, but there are differences. The most important difference is in the “one-year rule” associated with cognitive symptoms. Patients with Parkinson’s disease typically do not present cognitive issues until at least a year after mobility symptoms begin. DLB is the exact opposite, with cognitive symptoms showing up around a year prior to movement issues.

Here are the signs and symptoms of Lewy body dementia that you should know about, as reported by the LBDA:

  • Intensifying dementia – Growing confusion and minimized attention and executive function are common. Memory impairment may not be evident during the early stages.
  • Reoccurring visual hallucinations – These are typically complicated and detailed.
  • Hallucinations of other senses – Touch or hearing are the most typical.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder – This can appear decades prior to the onset of dementia or Parkinson’s.
  • Repeated falls and fainting – Includes unexplained loss of consciousness.
  • Other psychiatric disturbances – Most of these differ from patient to patient.

Is a proper diagnosis really crucial? Diagnosing DLB promptly and accurately may mean the difference between life and death, according to Howard I. Hurtig, M.D., Chair, Department of Neurology, Pennsylvania Hospital and Elliott Professor of Neurology. Improperly treating DLB with Parkinson’s medications can not only result in significant negative effects, but can even exacerbate symptoms and preclude accurate symptom management.

Find out more about the differences between Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies from ScienceDaily

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