Although Lewy Body Dementia has no known cure, identifying its symptoms and employing specific techniques can heighten a patient’s safety.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc, a public speaker for the Dementia Spotlight Foundation, provided an educational presentation on Feb. 5 about the disease at Atria Lutz, an assisted living facility.
Lewy Body Dementia is one of several diseases that inflicts dementia upon people, causing brain degeneration and memory loss.
It’s the second most progressive form of dementia, behind Alzheimer’s disease, affecting 1.4 million Americans, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association.
The condition occurs when protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, build up in the brain.
These areas of the brain regulate behavior, cognition and movement.
The dementia is named after Frederich H. Lewy, a neurologist who discovered the protein deposits in the brain in the early 1900s.
“When these people get to the end of these diseases – their brain is not going to tell their organs how to function anymore,” LeBlanc said.
There are instances when Lewy Body can be underdiagnosed because it shares some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, he said.
Lewy Body and Alzheimer’s both bring about cognitive or memory disorders.
However, Lewy Body affects cognition as it relates to problem solving and complex reasoning.
Alzheimer’s on the other hand affects cognition as it relates to making new experiences into memories.
The symptoms of Lewy Body and Parkinson’s are a hunched posture, stiff muscles, a shuffling walk and trouble initiating movement.
Those who experience dementia within one year of Parkinson’s symptoms are typically diagnosed with Lewy Body.
But, when Parkinson’s symptoms go into effect after a year, patients are usually diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Other symptoms of Lewy Body include:
- Declined thinking or reasoning
- Confusion that varies from day to day
- Sleep disturbances
Another symptom associated with Lewy Body is called sundowning, where one becomes more confused or agitated during the afternoon or later in the evening.
It is best to keep individuals who exhibit signs of sundowning productive during the earlier part of the day, LeBlanc said.
Not recognizing faces or surroundings, can cause a patient to experience anxiety.
Signs of such anxiety can include sweaty hands or feet, shortness of breath or heart palpitations.
“If your loved one is tossing and turning, the chances are this is probably all anxiety-related,” LeBlanc said. “If we can control anxiety and depression, [you’re] going to see a whole new patient out of this person.”
Physicians can provide the necessary medications for these symptoms, he said.
The speaker also explained the term ‘elopement,’ which is when a patient wanders away from a safe environment.
That person will typically steer in the direction of their dominant hand, LeBlanc explained.
“If not found in 72 hours, the survival rate is down by 20%,” he said.
The File for Life packet is used in these situations or when a patient is found unconscious in their home.
File for Life is a magnetic pouch where important documents can be placed and put on the refrigerator.
It may provide helpful information to law enforcement, firefighters or search parties about a patient, when lost.
There also are methods that can be beneficial to the patient.
LeBlanc also touched on using redirection to divert a patient’s attention when they are upset. Giving them an activity, such as folding clothes, or showing them old photos to help spark memories, can be helpful.
Setting a routine is important, too, he said.
Daily meals at a specific time at the same location can help keep a patient on track and can help reduce anxiety.
He also recommends keeping the patient social by going outdoors, and he said it’s good to speak to them daily.
However, do not bombard him or her with long sentences, he said. Break them down one small sentence at a time, so the patient can better comprehend what you’re trying to convey, LeBlanc said.
At times, a patient might do some mental time traveling, where he or she believes they’re in a past time or place in their life.
It’s good to explain to that individual what the current date is, but don’t force the issue, LeBlanc said.
Sometimes you have to acclimate to the patient’s reality.
“If the facts don’t matter to him or her, they should not matter to us,” LeBlanc said.
When addressing a patient, it’s more effective to say “we” as opposed to “you,” he added. That helps the patient to view a task as a team effort, which tends to result in a greater likelihood of cooperation.
For more information on this disease, visit the Lewy Body Dementia Association at LBDA.org.
Published February 12, 2020