Casey Kasem is best known for his legendary radio voice, which he used to announce chart-topping songs week after week, year after year.
During the months before his recent death, Kasem and his family put something else in the spotlight: Lewy Body Dementia, or LBD. Reports about Kasem’s health problems indicate he suffered from LBD, but if you are like many people, you may never have heard of this disease before. Knowing more can help you recognize possible problems in yourself or others, so let’s take a closer look…
What is Lewy Body Dementia?
You’re probably familiar with the term dementia. Dementia is not one disease; it’s an umbrella term for several different kinds of dementia. LBD is one kind of dementia caused by abnormal deposits of protein in the brain. These abnormal protein deposits are called Lewy Bodies. Lewy bodies form clumps inside nerve cells in brain tissue and interfere with how other chemicals work in the brain.
There are two related categories of LBD: dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia.
According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, even though LBD is not rare, it is often under-diagnosed. This is because many people, including healthcare professionals, are not familiar with LBD.
What are Signs and Symptoms of LBD?
LBD has many possible symptoms including:
- Changes in thinking and alertness that may come and go.
- Worsening problems with paying attention and executive function.
- Parkinson’s symptoms. Examples: stiff muscles, a shuffling walk, balance problems, hunched posture, tremors, a mask-like facial expression, swallowing problems.
- Hallucinations: most common are detailed visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not real). The person may have other types of hallucinations, such as hearing things that are not real.
- REM sleep disorder: acting out dreams through movements or speech.
- Dizziness and/or falls after standing up.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control.
- Memory loss occurs, but may not happen early in LBD and may be less obvious than with Alzheimer’s dementia.
Symptoms can be caused by problems other than LBD, so it’s important to talk to a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. If you suspect LBD, consider using a LBD Diagnostic Symptoms checklist, and showing it to your doctor.
How is LBD Diagnosed?
LBD can be difficult to diagnose, especially early in the disease. There’s not a specific test to check for LBD. Instead, a healthcare provider will look at each person’s symptoms. Tests may be ordered to check for other issues that could be causing symptoms.
Sometimes a referral to a specialist, such as a neurologist or geriatrician, is helpful. If LBD is diagnosed, the person’s symptom history will help the doctor categorize whether it is dementia with Lewy bodies or Parkinson’s disease dementia.
Can LBD be treated?
Right now there is no cure for LBD, but medications may help treat some symptoms. Non-medication treatments, like physical therapy or emotional support, may be valuable. Certain types of medications can cause problems for people with LBD, so it’s really important to tell healthcare providers who are going to prescribe medications that the person has LBD. Talk to the provider before starting any over-the-counter medications, too, to check if the medication is safe to use. Get more information about treatment by clicking here.
Take action if you are concerned about signs of LBD in yourself or a loved one.
- Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about signs and symptoms you’ve noticed. Bring your symptom checklist and a list of questions to ask during your appointment.
- If you’re a caregiver for someone with LBD, click here for caregiver resources.
Lewy Body Dementia is complex, and you may want more information than what’s been covered here. If you do, a helpful booklet about LBD is available free from the National Institutes of Health.